Gae's first photo, from hotel

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sydney Conference and the Tornado

We are really enjoying our time together. We were a little concerned about being together 24/7, but we are getting along well. We have grown together in many ways.

Gae and Terry in Sydney at the Opera House
 We travelled to Sydney to support a conference for all of the national directors of public affairs in the Pacific Area. Each country has a national director called (assigned) by the Church; these directors all traveled to meet in Sydney. It was wonderful to meet people we have been working with for the first time, and to renew acquaintances with those we had already met. The seminar lasted for two days, and we were in Sydney for five days in order to do our share of organizing and assuring that the travelers got to and from the airport. As part of the activities we attended the Sydney Temple, went to Sydney Harbor and the Opera House, went to a wildlife park to see many types of animals and pet kangaroos, and went to lunch and dinner together several times.

Flying Foxes (aka Fruit Bats) in Sydney
 The conference went well. Terry talked for an hour on media ideas and resources, complete with 47 PowerPoint slides and several handouts. Gae instantly made friends with everyone and was able to help people feel welcome. She has a great gift for it.

After the conference we had most of a day free, which turned out to be our anniversary, so we drove out of Sydney into the Blue Mountains. We are sure they are lovely mountains, but the whole trip was in a downpour with clouds near ground level so we did not get to see much that was very far from the car. We had a great time with each other anyway.

Stan and Rosalie Nance have been the public affairs missionaries in the office next to us since we arrived a year ago. They went home at the end of April, but before they left we went with them for a ride on a ferry that makes a mail run around a few islands. It is really a tourist ride, but they did drop people off on two of the islands and deliver some newspapers along the way. We had a great time with the Nances. We had lunch on the boat (billed as American hot dogs, but they turned out to be not so American). We hiked up to an overview of an old iron smelter during an extended stop on one of the islands. We saw two little blue penguins from the ferry boat at different times. The whole trip was beautiful and helped us recharge ourselves.

Gae on the mail run ferry
 The Nances were replaced by Jeff and Karen Larsen from American Fork, Utah. We are getting along splendidly with them. It is fun to watch them learn about their new assignment and try to get their arms around the job. We went through the same struggles. We are sure they will do well.

Gae accepted a big assignment to organize a videotaping for a crew from Salt Lake City. They were going to film in Auckland and Hamilton, New Zealand; Apia, Samoa; and Sydney, Australia. She had almost all of the arrangements made including lining up many people for interviews when the trip was postponed until October. So she cheerfully unwound all of the arrangements. She did a great job even if the project did not come to fruition.

We have accepted an assignment to be the editors for the Ensign and Liahona magazine inserts. There is an eight-page insert in each magazine for ten months each year. We have to produce about 2500 words each month. Terry is writing some of it, but mostly we are organizing a group of people to get photos and write articles for us to edit. The end game is to get it all organized and then turn it over to a local person who will be called (assigned) to be the editor. We have produced two months worth of inserts so far and so far everything has been approved by the Area Presidency. It has been a busy but fun project.

Gae & Terry in Sydney.  It is said to be good luck
to touch the pig - Gae is going for the gold!

We just finished the first quarter report, which involves us gathering information from each of our countries and organizing it into a spreadsheet. As always, we have a little trouble getting some of them to report, but in the end we got it put together. One of the amazing things was our public affairs councils in Samoa overshot their media placement goal: 141 media exposures vs. a goal of 2. The media team is headed by George Hunt who is constantly working on relationships which allow so many placements.

Our director and his wife, Richard and Laura Hunter, are about to have their fifth son. We are very excited for them. Their son, Charlie, who has three sisters, is very happy that the new arrival will be a brother.

A tornado passed within a mile of our house and did significant damage. One man was killed. We were eating lunch at a restaurant in Birkenhead which was in the tornado’s path only 2 hours before it passed through. Tornados of this magnitude are rare in New Zealand.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Visits to Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa

We left on 22 February on a two-week trip to Tonga, Samoa, and American Samoa. We really enjoyed meeting so many new friends face to face and learning about what they are doing in their calls. We shared some of the good ideas and information that we have learned in the last ten months. We met with other leaders and gathered information for our work.  We also got a couple of Fiji stamps in our passports.  We passed through Suva and Nandi but we were only at each for a few minutes while in transit. 

This is a typical bus in American Samoa - this one was built on a
Toyota pickup truck frame.  We saw hundreds of buses like this.
We are not surprised in any way, but everyone involved in a Public Affairs calling was really working hard to do their job and, most importantly, doing a good job.  We had the temerity to offer suggestions on several fronts in all three countries, but everything we could think of was already started or finished with a successful outcome.  We communicate with these good people regularly by email, phone, and video conference.  It is important to get some actual face time so that they and we can communicate better going forward.  In summary I can report that the Church’s public affairs in these island nations are in good hands and are being actively worked.

Terry scoping out the lagoon at Pago Pago, American Samoa

We did have a travel day from heck as we travelled from Samoa to American Samoa.  Motisha Solo, the secretary of the Samoa national public affairs council, mentioned that there were flights from Fagalii Airport to American Samoa, so we double-checked our itinerary but it said Faleolo Airport.  So when Mark Moors, Samoa National Director of Public Affairs, dropped us at the Faleolo Airport we went to check in and the lady at the counter (very young) told us that we would check in soon at the end counter.  We waited 45 minutes, but no one came to that counter so we asked someone else and, yes indeed, our flight was leaving from Fagalii.  So we grabbed a cab and tried to make to Fagalii Airport, about a 30-minute drive.  We had to take a later flight (only two hours later) because the airline said it was too late to check in although the flight wasn't leaving for 25 minutes.  We were very lucky, because there is not always another flight the same day.

So when we finally got to the hotel in Pago Pago, American Samoa, our room a/c did not work.  We had to wait more than an hour to get a room with Internet AND a/c.  Oh well, travel gets worse than that, but it was a frustrating day.

Tonga, Samoa, and American Samoa are all beautiful places, each charming in its own way.  All of them are hot and humid, especially this time of year.  We survived quite nicely with mostly air conditioned cars, sleeping quarters, and meeting rooms.  We decided we could get used to that kind of heat, but we have no idea how long it would take.  We enjoyed this trip very much.  We met wonderful people, members and nonmembers of our Church, and found them to be universally nice to us.
 There were geckos in our sleeping quarters (Church housing in Samoa and Tonga, hotel in American Samoa).  Neither of us minded the geckos.  It is good to have them to eat insects, spiders, and other bugs.  Gae managed to murder one gecko when she shut a kitchen cabinet door without noticing the gecko was on the edge of a shelf.  Terry was amazed that she didn’t freak out when it fell onto the counter while she was making breakfast.

Elder Bednar visited New Zealand just before we left.  We were able to attend a zone conference in which he taught by fielding questions from missionaries.  He is very bright and has a deep knowledge of scriptures and the gospel in general.  He also has a deep understanding of human nature.  His responses to questions were very powerful.  We feel very blessed to have so many opportunities to see and hear general authorities of the Church on a regular basis.

This is a freshwater eel in a pond in one of the Auckland City parks.

Just before we left for the island trip, we were taught in our weekly office devotional meeting that when appropriate we should teach less by lecturing and more by discussion, which can be invoked by the teacher asking for questions.  As we had our various training meetings in Tonga, Samoa, and American Samoa, we decided to approach using our time in this way.  It was very productive because we were then able to teach and discuss principles of public affairs on the points and at the levels of the person who raised the question.  The end result was that we used our time very effectively, directing discussion to create understanding.  This may seem obvious, but the difference between this approach and simply lecturing is amazing to both of us.

As always, there was a little extra time to drive around and see interesting things in each country.  Each had such beautiful beaches and greenery that even pictures don’t always do them justice.  Terry did drive on the right (as in not left) side of the road in American Samoa without a hitch, which was a surprise to us both.  When we switched back to the left side in Samoa and New Zealand the driving went smoothly as well.  Switching sides does make one sit up and pay attention while driving, at least for a while.

Fish photos taken by Terry while snorkeling.  There were a
lot of fish of many varieties.

Gae is becoming more and more adept on matters relating to computers.  Many of our readers know that she was not a computer enthusiast when we left home, to put it mildly.  Now she can find information, files, and other things without having to think about it.  Her writing skills have improved dramatically as well.  This is the result of determination and maintaining a good attitude.  Terry is very proud of her.

Terry and Gae Pearce at Ha'amonga 'a Maui in Tonga.  Built about 1200 AD, but it is not known how or why it was built.  The top cross piece is set into notches in the vertical rock.  Tough job without a crane.

Tony's and Carrie's Visit

Much has changed. We had 3 missionary couples in our public affairs office here in Auckland. Pat and Paul Streiff completed their 23-month mission and went home. Due to a lower influx of senior couples volunteering as missionaries they will not be replaced. We have been asked to support several additional countries and another multi-stake public affairs council in New Zealand as a result. These are the units we support:
Pat and Paul Streiff

• Auckland, New Zealand area and north multi-stake council
• Hamilton, New Zealand multi-stake council
• Hastings-Gisborne, New Zealand multi-stake council
• Tonga
• Samoa
• American Samoa
• Cook Islands
• Marshall Islands
• Kiribati

Fortunately we have good people in each of these councils which will keep our load lighter.

We noted the passing of our halfway mark on February 10th. Every missionary says the same thing: that it is hard to believe our mission is half done, and we are no exception.

Tony and Carrie Pearce, Terry’s brother and business partner and his wife, came to visit for ten days starting January 12th. We had a great time with them. Tony wrote a great history of the visit and you may read it here. It is a good read with lots of photos. We had a fun time planning the trip and we surely kept Tony and Carrie hopping.

While Tony and Carrie were here, we all went to see Jiries and Marcelle Giacaman, the woodcarver, as Tony reported. A couple of weeks later they invited us to come to dinner to try Palestinian foods. It was a very special evening and the food was great. Jiries and Marcelle are from Bethlehem and, as Christians, were feeling crushed between the Jews and the Muslims with all of the conflict that has occurred in Palestine. There are only about 3% of the population that are Christian. So they made an opportunity to come to New Zealand and start over – about 30 years ago. They still believe it was a wise decision. They took us on a tour of their little farm with many kinds of animals, vegetables, and fruiting plants. I’m sure the visit will be one of our special memories for a long time. It is rare to find people who are so humble and genuinely kind in every thought and deed.

Terry and Gae on P-day at Lake Tarawera

We are enjoying our mission and the chances we have to do so many diverse things and meet so many people in and out of the Church.

Monday, January 3, 2011

 We have had a very busy three weeks since our last post. On December 7th through 9th, we went to Hastings to meet with the public affairs council there, and to teach them some of the things that we have learned in the last few months. Sharon Roberts is the director of public affairs for the Hastings Stake and for the Hastings-Gisborne multi-stake council, which adds Flexmere and Gisborne stakes to her responsibilities. We had a very good meeting and we were very happy with the response from those attending. It is about an eight-hour drive from Takapuna (where we live) to Hastings, so we stayed over one night on the way down and one night in Napier (near Hastings) after our evening meeting. Driving in New Zealand is not all freeways that allow the driver to relax. Most of the roads wind through mountains. Gae does not like mountain roads, as many of our readers will know, so we slow down to the yellow advisory speeds around curves. This is a good idea, but most drivers are impatient with us as they are used to driving much faster. Fortunately there are frequent passing lanes. We go slow through the passing lanes as well, so the queue behind us can go ahead.
Gae Pearce at Waipunga Falls off the highway from Taupo to Hastings
Gae Pearce yelling at a rock - and winning!
On the day after we got home from Hastings, we flew to Australia for training meetings and team building exercises with our counterparts from Sydney. There are two couples and one paid directors in Sydney and, although we have had three couples in Auckland, we will only have two couples and our director going forward. Our good friends Pat and Paul Streiff are preparing to leave us and will not be replaced. I think that this is because of over 40 percent fewer senior couples signing up for missions over the last year – which is due to the poor economy.

We met at a hotel on the Gold Coast. Stan and Rosalie Nance spent a significant amount of time taking care of reservations and organizing our activities. We learned much from our directors and from the other couples. There was a new couple there, Vic and Judy Gibb, who had only arrived in Sydney a week before. They asked many questions which brought out good discussions and helped us learn even more. They are accompanied by their daughter Amanda, aged 25, who was a delight to meet and be with. 

In addition to the invaluable knowledge we obtained, we attended and visited several interesting places in the evenings, or before and after the training days:

    • Brisbane Temple. We attended the Temple and went to an endowment session as a group. This is a relatively new temple and is small and beautiful. There is a fountain in the courtyard which is lit from underwater at night and gives the entry to the temple a special feeling.

      • Outback Spectacular. This is a show in a large arena involving horses and cowboys. We enjoyed it very much. A significant portion of the show was dedicated to a ‘reenactment’ of the Australian Cavalry’s brave victory in a battle in Beersheba, now in Israel, but then part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. It made Terry homesick for his horses.

     • Natural Bridge. This was a wonderful surprise. Terry convinced the Streiffs and Gae to simply drive west, away from the coast, to see if and how the foliage changed. It did change, but was still very green and lush. The entire coastal area is very green and beautiful – not like the desert that is the outback in the center of Australia. That is why most of the population is concentrated in coastal areas. In any case we came upon a small sign that said “Natural Bridge” so we turned off the highway into Springbrook National Park. There was a short hike to the bridge, where a fairly good-sized river dumps down into a cavern near the entrance to the cavern, which is about 30 feet high. It was very interesting to see the falls and also the native vegetation along the pathways. Most of the hike was a looped track, so we found new things all along the way. Terry swung on a natural vine; there is a first time for everything.

Waterfall from river above into cavern at Natural Bridge, Australia, Dec 2010

     • Australia Zoo. This is the zoo that the famous Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, who was killed a few years ago. It was truly an interesting place and far exceeded our expectations. We were able to pet kangaroos and koalas, among other things. They had many large crocodiles – imagine that. All in all this is one of the great tourist places in the world.

Picture by Terry Pearce - Gold Coast Australia Dec 2010

     • Snorkeling. Terry, Stan Nance, and Paul Streiff went on a boat to snorkel. When we first arrived at the dive site, we were a little skeptical because it was not a true reef, but was a breakwater for a beach. When we got into the water and swam to the location the hosts directed us to we were very pleased with the wide variety of colorful fish. Most of the time we were followed by schools of fish. The host told us to use a small rock to smash a couple of barnacles, of which there were many, to attract the fish. This cost only $45, gear included, and was well worth the money.

After we flew back to Auckland, we caught things up at work during for the week before Christmas, as things were winding down for the holidays. New Zealand has quite a system for Christmas and New Year holidays. There are two public holidays for each. Added to this being within the summer vacation for all of the schools, there is practically no one working on the three days between. Richard Hunter, our director, told us to take the time away from the office to recharge.

Richard and Laura Hunter kindly invited us for Christmas Eve at their home with their young children and her parents. Three other couples joined us. We had a great night and it helped take some of the sting out of being away from home. It is far too easy to get down in the dumps wishing for family. We did a nativity and Terry was a wise man. Gae was a stage hand and photographer.

We enjoyed a couple of days at Rotorua with our friends the Streiffs and also with Cal and Sue Taylor. The Taylors were in our ward in Sandy for 20 years and it was good to see them. We went fishing three times and caught a few rainbow trout, mostly 18 inches or longer, but the action was a little slow. We went up the east coast through Tauranga on the way back to our flat. New Zealand is a beautiful place. There are lots of flowers blooming. Gae is particularly fond of the blue hydrangeas. We all went on a luge ride; the first time ever for Gae and Terry. The luge comprised a 3-wheel sled with steering and brakes, several concrete tracks from slow to fast (very fast), and gondolas and ‘ski’ lifts. Maybe they are luge lifts there. We had way more fun than we thought we would and will probably go back again.

We were able to talk to most of our family on Christmas via Skype and we enjoyed the visits so much. One of the nice things about our 18-month mission is that we will only miss one Christmas and one Thanksgiving.

After we got home, Gae and I headed down to the Hamilton Temple and enjoyed joining a very few people for an endowment session on New Years Eve.

We have been shadowing the Streiffs on supporting the people called to public affairs in Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Marshall Islands, and Kiribati [keer-uh-bas] for several months. We will continue to support Hastings, Hamilton, and Cook Islands. With the Streiffs gone, we will be changing our focus to working with all these different councils, we will likely be travelling more, and we will be even busier. We are loving life and we are looking forward to our increased responsibilities.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jensen & Turley

We had a very busy and fruitful week. Elder Marlin K. Jensen and Brother Robert E. Turley, Jr., the Church Historian and Assistant Historian, respectively, are on a history tour within the Pacific Area. The tour will culminate when Elder Jensen rededicates a uniquely historic chapel in Tubuai, an island in French Polynesia, which has been remodeled. If you like history, you’ll like this story. The really short version is that Addison Pratt and others went there in 1844 as the first missionaries to Polynesia.

Elder Jensen and Brother Turley spoke at devotional at our office building on Wednesday. Gae and I enjoyed each of their thoughts.

Elder Jensen and Brother Turley spoke at several firesides in Auckland and Hamilton during the week. We were not able to go to one of the firesides, but we worked with our good director of public affairs in Hamilton and he was able to get two Members of Parliament to attend the fireside there and to meet with the visitors and at least two of the Seventy from New Zealand. The visit went well, of course, and working with these opinion leaders is a very important part of what the Church’s Public Affairs is tasked with.
Clockwise from front right:  Roberts, Wilsons (w/Levi), Streiffs, Pearces, and Nances.

One of the perks of our calling is that we are working with several of the Seventy on a regular basis. These are all very bright, kind, and caring men. On Saturday night we went to a social for the New Zealand National Public Affairs Council at the home of Michael A. Roberts of the Seventy, who is their advisor. He and his wife are very down-to-earth people and we had a great time eating a grand BBQ dinner and playing some fun and competitive games. I’m afraid our team came in second and tied for first (out of two, so I guess we tied for second as well. Their home could easily have been built in Utah, and the setting made us a little homesick.