New Zealand is 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.
But just as sheep recognize the voice of a beloved shepherd, young LDS New Zealanders respond to the voice of the prophets.
Three teens from New Zealand are finding their talents and working on them. But a big part of their lives is the Church. They have found that the gospel means a lot to them. And it makes a big difference to their lives when they see what their peers have chosen instead.
When Romaine is playing a pickup game of 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 literally in the shadow of an LDS 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 LDS.
But this is not Utah. Romaine lives on the other side of the world, in Temple View, New Zealand, and he attends the Church College of New Zealand. (It’s called college, but the course of study and student ages are the same as junior high and high school in the United States.) He is surrounded by Church members, but he isn’t going along just to be one of the crowd. He is deciding for himself how he will live his life, and it will include the gospel.
Romaine, 17, and his teammates on the top A-1 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 last year. 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. They didn’t want to go through that again. The team was determined to regain the top spot. And they did.
The A-1 boys’ and the girls’ basketball teams both took first in the national basketball tournaments held last August.
“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 up for their games against 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 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, 16. “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 just got married and is settled in Australia. But knowing he is happy makes her feel happy, too.
Lucy is a day student at 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,” says Lucy. “Life is too incredible just to happen.”
If she had friends who were struggling to gain a testimony, Lucy says she would advise them, “If you just try and have a desire to know the truth, if you use the 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 you see other people’s reactions when they come here to the temple, you know how lucky you are.”
As an artist, Lucy’s vision of the world is a beautiful one.
Watch out for Apii’s feet!
With one well-placed kick, she could knock you over.
But Apii’s feet are only dangerous when she’s competing. In everyday life, Tereapii Rota, 16, of Tokorua, New Zealand, is a bright girl who serves her school as the representative to the board of trustees. But in her free time, she and her brother are trained by their father in the fine art of defense. She is so good at it that she won the junior women’s national championship in Tae Kwon Do. She was surprised by her success since it was the first time she had seriously competed.
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, but Apii often trains with the boys because there aren’t many women good enough to challenge her.
Although Apii is good at a rather unusual sport, 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 have heaps of laughs. We don’t see everything as real serious.”
Laughing a little at life has made it easier for Apii and her friends to resist the temptations that come to 16-year-olds. “I suppose the hardest thing about being 16,” 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, 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 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 they were so relieved.”
Apii has plans to go to university and study business.
In the meantime, watch out for Apii’s flying feet.