Yesterday, Saturday, 23 June 2012, we were invited to a special program at a marae in Korongata (Bridge Pa). The occasion was a visit from President and Sister Bleak (pronounced "Blake" but is the Irish spelling of that name), who is the New Zealand MTC President. Along with them were one of his counselors, President Armitage, and his wife, who is a Maori from Bridge Pa. The NZ MTC is closed for three weeks for cleaning, etc., so they have some free time to do a little traveling and wanted to come to the Maori origins of the LDS Church in New Zealand, which are both in our area: Bridge Pa and Te Hauke.
This turned out to be one of the most incredible memories we will have in New Zealand, turning into a very tender experience as the Maori people here shared their traditions and their hearts with us. When you've never been on a particular marae (and they're all over the country but run by different tribes), you must first be welcomed onto the marae with quite a formal ceremony (a Powhiri, "poh-fir-ee"). We, along with the Bleaks and the Armitages, were those being welcomed. We were led in by someone who could speak Maori...and greeted by chanting done by senior members of the tribe. This is shown below.
Following the welcoming ceremony, we were invited for snacks over in the dining hall...and when Maoris serve snacks, they always serve a feast. These people live so simply and have so few material goods, but they love to share what they have...they're the most generous people we have ever met anywhere. I wish I had taken a picture of the huge table filled with all kinds of food.
While we were eating, we were also entertained by a choir of Maori singers, along with a wonderful man, Tommy Taurima, who shared with us the history of the LDS Church in New Zealand. During the years long ago, when Christianity was first brought to New Zealand, there were a lot of different churches coming here. The Maori people asked their chief which church they should join, and he said he would meditate about it. After several days, he told them that the true church had not yet come to New Zealand but when it did, their preachers would come in twos and teach them in their own language in their homes. When the LDS missionaries arrived, they were recognized almost immediately from the chief's description, and Maoris joined the church in droves. This dear narrator shed tears almost the whole time he was telling us about the church's history here; so, of course, I cried, too! Here's a few more pictures of those who entertained us.
The young missionaries knew President Bleak was in town but were not allowed to come to the marae, so President Bleak was invited to a baptism in Napier that evening, which we also went to. All the young missionaries from any of the South Pacific Islands and New Zealand and Australia come to the Missionary Training Center in NZ, which is located in Auckland, so they were all quite excited to see President Bleak and his wife again. Here are some of the pictures we took last night after the baptism.
MIDDLE ROW: Sister Hemi (NZ), Elder & Sister Armitage, Sister Bleak, Elder Haiane (NZ), Elder Tamale (Tonga, now Hamilton NZ), and Elder Barnes (Farmington, UT).
FRONT ROW: Elder Eneri (Kiribati), Elder Hunt (Samoa), Elder Wehipeihana (Hamilton NZ), and Sister Tito (New Zealand)