Wednesday, December 26, 2012

CHRISTMAS IN NEW ZEALAND - 2012

This is our second Christmas in New Zealand, and though our last one was good, we had only been here for about a month and didn't know too many people yet.  This Christmas was spent visiting many of our good friends.  And once again, Christmas here is so much less commercialized and focuses more on family get-togethers...much more like our Thanksgiving in the USA.  Not everyone even puts up a Christmas tree, there aren't a lot of gifts, nor are there many decorations in the town. Here's a picture of our decoration, Christmas cards, and gifts in our flat, plus the "biggest" decoration we've seen on our "main" street (Heretaunga) here in Hastings.
Notice our Christmas tree...tiny but loved + presents from family & friends.

On Christmas morning here, which was still Christmas Eve in the United States, we opened our presents and got ready to visit some of our friends.  I received a special present in the form of an email from a lady in Australia I don't even know, who received a copy of my conversion story from a lady I had met when we went to the Hamilton Temple last May.  This lady who sent me the email is a dear Catholic friend of the lady in Hamilton NZ and had been going through a very difficult time in her life, so her Hamilton friend introduced her to the LDS Church and sent her my conversion story.  She started attending church, listening to lessons from the missionaries, and was baptized a member of the LDS Church on 24 Nov 2012.  She was writing to thank me for my influence, and I was overwhelmed with how my mission has had even a small effect in Australia.

Our first visit of the day was to one of our dearest friends here in Hastings, who told me to tell you that she's been a gang member, "done lots of awful things", but has found incredible happiness in the LDS Church and has completely turned her life around.  Her name is Pare Taunoa, and she is so humble and happy and faithful now...she amazes us with her scripture reading, prayer, and just genuine care for all of her friends, and her efforts to bring the Gospel into all their lives.  She lives on a very limited income, so I gave her my leather-bound quad Scriptures, and I couldn't have given them to anyone in the world who would appreciate them more.  We meet with Pare at least weekly, and we've learned as much from her as she's ever learned from us.  Meet Pare!
For lunch, actually the "big feed", we went to Flaxmere to join Pres. Rikki Te Kira and his family, who were using the church building for their gathering.  Everyone loves the Te Kiras.  In addition to a scrumptious meal, we also had karaoke singing, games, and favors.  Elder Farnes and I sang "Feliz Navidad", and everyone was kind enough to appreciate our efforts.  Here's some pictures from the Te Kira gathering:
The children's table...having snacks before the meal.

President Te Kira, a big time fan of Michael Jackson, "how he used to be".

Besides candy (lollies) on the table, everyone got a "cracker", too.  You pull the two ends at once,
it opens with a bang, and inside is a little toy and a riddle.  These are very popular in New Zealand.
After a hour or so with the Te Kira family, we headed to Bridge Pa to visit with the Tuimaseve and Uelese families, our very favorite Samoans!  There we just nibbled on a bit of fruit and visited.  This family is VERY musical and is coming as part of a group to the United States next September to perform at several places in Salt Lake.  I will do my very best to get them to American Fork also; whenever they perform, the building is filled to capacity.  The only things bigger than their talents are their hearts!  Here are some of them:
Traci Tuimaseve (amazing chorister & vocal soloist) and Steve Tipu

Alieta Uelese, Traci's sister,  also great soloist

(L-R) Rashan Uelese, Shaqaila Uelese, unknown, and Ruth Wong,
sister to Traci and Alieta and a very talented soloist.

(L-R), Brother Oa, Asovale Tuimaseve (patriarch of the family), his wife Rowena, and our beloved Elder Farnes

Dont' know all the names here, but the lady in the front (in the pink & white blouse)
is Karen; she and Steve Tipu (above) are getting married in January...great couple!
After several hours of visiting (these two above were the only ones where I took pictures), we went back to our flat, took a nap, and then visited two more families in Hastings.  Our Christmas weather very warm and humid, definitely a summer day, and I'm sure there were lots of families who spent the day at one of the many beaches nearby.

I guess I need to back up a little as I remember more about this Christmas season in New Zealand.  Our Relief Society sisters in the Hastings 1st Ward had a little gathering in a member's garden, complete with what they call a "high tea" here.  Everyone was to dress for the occasion...so here's some cute pictures I took of these fun ladies:
Sue Curtis and lovely Catholic lady, Maree Palmer, who loves our socials

Our darling 83-yr old Mihi Edwards, who loves describing herself as "vain"
She has incredible missionary zeal, was a former Catholic, too.

Dot Thompson, legally blind but eternally optimistic;
her guide dog, Verdi, is loved by everyone, too.

Bonnie Ruwhiu, seminary teacher and sister of Stake President

Most of the wards held Christmas parties, too, and we thought you would enjoy seeing how Santa Claus looks in New Zealand...before he arrives in the USA and is fed cookies by every family he visits.
The "masked" Santa at the Napier Ward Christmas party
...and Santa's elf, a little bigger than usual! 






Here's two other "elves", our sister missionaries, Sister Teaeki (Kiribati) and Sister Cameron (Australia).




An additional fun memory was from 15 December  when we went to a Christmas party at a volunteer's home for the Habitat for Humanity where we have been volunteering every Thursday for a year so far.  None of these wonderful people are LDS, but they seem to really respect us and always ask Clyde to bless the food when we have a get-together.  This time, prior to his prayer, Clyde thanked them all for their friendship and told them that we had brought them a DVD about Christmas from the Church, "Joy to the World," with singing from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Everyone seemed to be so thrilled and appreciative; we handed out about 20 DVDs.

Another highlight was a visit to the home of one of the nicest families in Hastings about a week before Christmas.  This couple is the Ruwhius, an elderly but very active couple, who are just loved by everyone.  Their son, Charles, is the current Stake President of the Hastings Stake.  Bishop and Sister Ruwhiu were the only ones home, and we had the nicest visit with them.  Before we left, they both sang to us, a Christmas hymn and a Primary hymn, and we were just overwhelmed.  So, then we sang to them the Primary hymn, "I Wonder When He Comes Again."

And now our final Christmas "present"...a new car, 2012 Toyota Corolla.  The Church leases all their missionary cars from Toyota, and Toyota likes them back while the mileage is still low enough to sell them.  So, once our cars get to 66,000K (or about 41,000 miles), we turn them in and receive new cars. Well, the young elders car became "of age," but instead of their receiving the new car, the Church decided it should go to the senior missionaries...voila!  US!  Here's our new car in front of our flat.
A really BIG part of our Christmas here is our closeness with the young missionaries. Like I've done for my kids and grandkids for years, I decided to make Christmas pillowcases for about 14 elders and sisters.  Christmas fabric was atrociously expensive, so I found some red pillowcases and appliqu├ęd a New Zealand design on them.  Here's how they turned out, and the missionaries loved them.
Guess before I close this entry, I should show you some of Hastings Christmas decorations...enjoy!

Center of Hastings downtown area, where the train goes through the pond.  See the silver Christmas trees in the pond.  The city bus station is the red-roofed building on the far right; downtown shops are to the left of the pond.  
Santa's sleigh, one street over from our flat

Santa himself on the grocery store we go to almost daily
































Today, 26 December, is Boxing Day, another holiday throughout most of the world...but for us, it was Christmas in the United States and a chance for us to Skype our family members and share a bit in their Christmas festivities.  Next year we'll be back together, and we're really looking forward to that time, but a chunk of our hearts will definitely remain here in New Zealand with these wonderful new friends.

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