22946_000_008Their country may be kind of isolated, but these teens know they can be as close to the Spirit as anyone else.
Please make sure your seat belt is fastened and adjust your seat back to its upright position. You are about to land in Auckland, New Zealand.
Giant Puhutukawa trees dot the rolling hills around the city. And the boat-flecked sea surrounding Auckland, the City of Sails, is shining in the sun. But the variety in the landscapes, buildings, and boats is only a reflection of the colorful and varied cultures and personalities of the people of New Zealand.
The youth and other members of the Church are no exception. To the mix of the many things that make up life in New Zealand they add their own main ingredients of faith and testimony.
The first stop
In Auckland is the Panmure stake. And in that stake’s boundaries is Bucklands Beach, where Bella Aniterea and Nicolas Purcell live. This morning Bella, a Mia Maid, is giving a talk on prayer in sacrament meeting. There’s a good reason her dad, a member of the Howick Ward bishopric, asked her to give that talk. She says she has a testimony of prayer because she prays.
In preparing for her talk, Bella reread the story of Enos in the Book of Mormon. “He prayed for one whole day, and he prayed for his enemies,” Bella recounts. Although she had read the story before, she had never noticed that Enos prayed for his enemies. “I haven’t done that yet,” Bella says, “but I think I’m going to start today.”
And, if you look to the left of the pulpit where Bella bore her testimony of prayer, you’ll see Nicolas, a teacher, putting away the sacrament trays after the meeting.
It might sound strange, but Nicolas’s testimony of the priesthood began with a head injury. “I was Rollerblading down a hill with a mate, and I hit something and cracked the back of my head open.” At 10 inches, the “crack” was more like a canyon, and the doctors said Nicolas would not pull through or he would have severe brain damage. A priesthood blessing from his dad and others in the ward proved the doctors wrong. “That experience gave me quite a shining testimony of the priesthood,” Nicolas says. The Lord preserved his life through the power of the priesthood, and Nicolas plans to honor his priesthood by serving a mission.
Nicolas and Bella’s stake is only a hop, skip, and a jump from the Avondale Ward in the Waterview stake. The trip to the temple from there takes a few hours. Nevertheless, the youth of that ward all pile into a minibus so they can do baptisms for the dead in the Hamilton New Zealand Temple.
The road to Hamilton twists and turns, and the Avondale youth sway from side to side as they become even more excited about going to the temple. They look out the windows of the minibus at the rain. It is like liquid sunshine. Warm and wet. There’s a good reason the Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, or the Land of the Long White Cloud.
After the baptisms, the Avondale youth go to the soggy, green temple grounds. This was Jordon King’s first time doing baptisms for the dead, but she knows how important the work is. “We were there to help the people who can’t do their own work. I got a warm feeling.” And with that warm feeling, Jordon, 12, joined the other youth in their testimonies of temple work.
The next stop
A little more than a mile from the temple is another gathering of Church youth. Church College is a high school for almost 700 students, most of whom are Latter-day Saints who live in or near Hamilton.
One of those students is Natania Katene, 17. You’ll most likely find Natania working on her shots at the netball court. She knows about determination and hard work—physically speaking. She also knows they are vital for spiritual growth.
Natania, at nearly 6 feet, 2 inches, is on the Church College netball team, but that’s not what sets her apart. “I won’t express my anger on the netball court. I put [my anger] into my shooting,” she says. “I shot really well last year,” she smiles. Natania knows the Lord expects her to use her talents wisely, and she’s trying hard to do that by working on becoming more Christlike and relying on the Holy Spirit.
Natania might be a six-hour drive from Lisa Lee, but their hearts are in the same place. Living in windy Wellington, Lisa, 16, depends on the Spirit to guide her as much as the youth anywhere else in the country. And one of the ways she feels close to the Spirit is through reading her scriptures. “I try to look for answers in the scriptures before I look anywhere else,” Lisa says. Her excitement about the scriptures fills the room every time she talks about them—which is very often.
Lisa’s sister, Rachel, isn’t as sure of her testimony as Lisa is. Both girls live in the Featherston Ward of the Upper Hutt New Zealand Stake. “I don’t know if I really do have a testimony,” she says, “but I suppose I must because I try to be obedient.” Rachel, 14, would like to have a testimony of the Book of Mormon like her sister’s but says she hasn’t put as much work into reading the scriptures as her sister has. She knows she needs to work harder at reading the Book of Mormon regularly since she really wants a testimony.
Nathan Prendergast, a priest from Rachel’s ward, agrees. “You can’t just sit there and do nothing.” Testimony does not stand still. “It’s something you have to gain for yourself and then build up. It keeps on increasing.”
Nathan gained his testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith using the same formula he suggests to others: work at it. He applied himself in seminary and learned about the Prophet. He said his added knowledge built his faith. “Joseph Smith meant more to me from studying the Doctrine and Covenants,” he says. “I have more respect for him because I know more about him.”
The last stop
Leaving Nathan in Wellington, your final destination on this short tour of New Zealand is the picturesque city of Christchurch. Christchurch is on the south island of New Zealand, and you can get there by boat or by plane.
Lashana Prouting, 16, lives in Christchurch in the Avonside Ward. Living in a country where few people attend church means she has a lot of missionary work to do. Once she took a less-active friend to a fireside with her to see a video of President Gordon B. Hinckley speaking about the six B’s. “I read [the talk] at least once a week,” Lashana says. “I get a lot out of it. It really made me understand more. In the prophet’s talk, you could tell he cared.”
Before President Hinckley gave his talk, Lashana knew he was a prophet, but she says that following his counsel strengthens her testimony of a living prophet.
From Auckland to Christchurch and beyond, many of the Latter-day Saint youth of New Zealand are striving to keep their testimonies growing, and they’re succeeding. They know the good choices they make bring them closer to the Savior. Lauren Taueki, 17, of the Avalon Ward near Wellington, puts it this way: “I guess we do what’s right and what the prophets say and then find out it’s right afterward.” They experiment upon the word of God, pray, and follow the prophet, and they are never disappointed by the results.