We our learning our role as senior missionaries here in the Hawkes Bay area, and as we've heard from other senior couples back in Utah, each mission is different and you are guided more by the Spirit than anything in the areas in which you are assigned. We have eight wards and four branches and, because of the size of our area, we still haven't been to all of them. One particular ward, though, the Korongata Ward in Bridge Pa, has captured our hearts. This ward is almost entirely Maori (well, actually, all of them are), but at one time the entire town of Bridge Pa were Mormons, and the Church built a beautiful chapel there (pictures below). Now, though, with a lot of the older people dying, people moving away, non-LDS moving in, the attendance at church has fallen significantly; and we want to help them fill it again! Tonight we met with Bishop Sadler, a very young but dedicated bishop, who is thrilled that we want to work with his ward. We already have appointments for this coming Wednesday and Thursday to teach some non-LDS that are relatives of active LDS in Bridge Pa. One of our greatest supporters is a wonderful 80-yr old lady named Mary Reid, who lives in a 100-yr old home in Bridge Pa that used to be part of the MAC (Maori Agricultural College, church-owned) until it was almost destroyed by the 1931 earthquake. Sister Reid's husband bought the one standing building that remained and turned it into their home. Many of you have heard about Matthew Cowley, an LDS apostle who was loved by the Maori people...he spent many hours in that home. Sister Reid's sister, "Hop", was the first seminary teacher here, and her daughter, Viola, was the first seminary graduate. "Hop" passed away several years ago, but I have to tell you how she got her name: she was born with a club foot, turned completely the wrong direction; so an aunt came over one day, grabbed the baby and twisted her foot, breaking the bones, but turned it around. Then they splinted it, so it would grow correctly. For a long time, this little girl had to hop around, and everyone called her "Hoppy". That was shortened to "Hop" as she grew older, and I don't remember ever hearing her first name. Last night at our stake celebration of 100 years of seminary in the Church, Sister Reid spoke in behalf of her sister, and Viola spoke about being the first seminary student. She told us how her "Auntie Hop" would go through the town whistling "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief", and all the seminary students would wake up and know it was time to go to seminary. The tunes Sister "Hop" whistled changed at each corner, but it was the same songs each day, so the youth all knew when it was time for them to be in their seats for class.
In Hastings, the town we actually live in, we are busy visiting less-active and part-member families. One of the most successful things we are doing is holding Family Home Evenings with them, and the families seem to really enjoy it and beg us to return weekly. Elder Farnes still has the ukelele he bought when he served his first mission here in New Zealand, so we always take that with us. The Maori people love to sing, so we always sing a bunch of Primary songs (I've typed up about 18 of them and made copies, so everyone has the words). One family, where the mother is Samoan and not LDS, we started the evening with "I Am A Child of God" and she just loved it and asked if we could sing it again. Later on in the evening, while we were playing games with the kids, we saw her over in the corner, still singing that beautiful song. Now she wants to take the lessons from the missionaries, and we are thrilled. We can teach the lessons, too, but President Kezerian prefers that the young missionaries have that experience, which is fine with us. Along with singing, we also give a gospel lesson and then play games with the family, sometimes on the iPad because there are so many LDS apps with wonderful spiritual games and puzzles. Some amazing things about these wonderful Maori people: they welcome us into their homes like we were family, and we cannot leave without their feeding us, which is so humbling because they have so little but love to share anything they have with us. One evening, after the FHE lesson, they brought Elder Farnes and me a large glass of orange drink, a cup of Milo (like cocoa) and THREE pieces of cake each! And there wasn't any for them, so the NINE of them just watched us eat. We never want to offend them, so we must accept their hospitality, but we did eat only one piece of cake each. The following week we called ahead and told them we were bringing the treat this time. Other families have fixed us entire meals. Their hospitality cannot be matched. We both love the Maori people.