The Perfect Enemy | New Zealand Missionary Training Center back after 3 COVID-19 years - Church News
February 3, 2023

New Zealand Missionary Training Center back after 3 COVID-19 years – Church News

New Zealand Missionary Training Center back after 3 COVID-19 years  Church News

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Following three years of pandemic-related interruptions, the New Zealand Missionary Training Center — one of the longest-operating MTCs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — is looking to have its first full year of on-site training since 2019.

A quick recap of the intermittent operations for the New Zealand MTC, thanks to area COVID-19 pandemic closures and precautions:

  • The New Zealand MTC joined all of the Church’s then-10 missionary training centers worldwide in shutting down on-site operations in late March 2020. Like other MTCs, it continued online training when closed.
  • It reopened its doors to new missionaries for on-site training in late June 2021.
  • That resumed training lasted only two intakes of new missionaries before closing again because of the South Pacific’s renewed pandemic restrictions.
  • More than a year later, the New Zealand MTC reopened again in late September 2022 to a limited number of training missionaries — and has remained in operations since.

Sister Tracey Morton and Sister Michela Sanft walk through the courtyard of the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

New Zealand MTC President Lindsay T. Dil and Sister Christina Dil originally started a two-year assignment in January 2019, now having maintained leadership for double that period. President Charles A. Rudd and Sister Annette L. Rudd, originally called to begin their service in 2021, weren’t able to get the necessary visa and travel allowances until recently.

That all changes this month, as the Rudds — former New Zealand Hamilton Mission president and companion — completed their new MTC leadership training in Utah before traveling to Auckland to assume ecclesiastical leadership at the New Zealand MTC.

Smaller, personal MTC

Missionaries assigned to serve in Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga and other locations throughout the South Pacific train at the New Zealand MTC in five offered languages — English, English as a Second Language, French, Samoan and Tongan, with the latter three for native speakers only.

The MTC has a capacity of just over 100 missionaries — the equivalent of two or three branches of missionaries at the much larger Provo Missionary Training Center in Utah. In Auckland, there are no large devotionals with attendance in the four digits.

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New Zealand Missionary Training Center supervisor Abinadi Lameko instructs missionaries at the New Zealand MTC in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“Yeah, we don’t ever sit in a stadium or auditorium,” said President Dil, adding that when general authorities come for visits or devotionals, “the missionaries have very personal, up-close and great encounters.”

Said Sister Dil of the missionaries interacting with visiting leaders: “You can see it in their faces — it’s just magical.”

Ecclesiastical leadership

An MTC president and companion serve as ecclesiastical leaders to the training missionaries — in this case, President Dil as MTC president and Sister Dil as MTC Relief Society president.

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Sister Christina Dil and MTC President Lindsay Dil pose for a portrait at the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“We live with them, we’re their leaders,” said Sister Dil, “but we’re like parents just making sure they’re settled in, they’re happy, they’re healthy — and then professional teachers come in and teach them.”

President Dil said the MTC leaders serve as a filter — “You take the missionaries as they are when they come in, and hopefully in three weeks, they walk out of here looking like a missionary, thinking like a missionary, acting like a missionary and ready to teach as a missionary.”

It’s a transition, both add, for the missionaries to go from being a young single adult Latter-day Saint to becoming a disciple and representative of Jesus Christ.

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Sister Christina Dil hands out soap and cleaning supplies as missionaries prepare for a transition of outgoing and incoming missionaries at the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The leaders’ apartment is right there at the MTC, just a door knock away. “We’re medical,” President Dil said, “we’re security, we’re transport, we’re supplies, we’re anything they need.”

Closure and quarantine

That apartment came into play during the initial pandemic closure in March 2020, when the New Zealand MTC was scrambling to send missionaries back home to Samoa and Tonga and elsewhere before the island nations closed their borders for health precautions.

“The plane landed in Samoa with the missionaries on board,” President Dil said, “and one hour later, their borders closed — and they’ve been closed the last three years.”

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Sister Angel Paletu’a cleans her room, preparing for a transition of outgoing and incoming missionaries at the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Just like full-time missionaries being quarantined in their residences for the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dils found themselves restricted to their small on-site residence at the MTC from late March until November, when Auckland and the rest of New Zealand imposed lockdown limitations and halted regular movement throughout the cities and communities.

Managing operations

Ecclesiastic leaders like the Dils, Rudds and others worldwide work in tandem with the local manager of operations at each training center. In New Zealand, that is Timena Gasu, the MTC’s manager of training and operations.

Gasu has a long history with the New Zealand MTC, which dates back to 1977 and its original location in Hamilton as part of the old Church College complex. She arrived as a new, training missionary in 1995, assigned to the New Zealand Auckland Mission, and then later started teaching at the MTC in 2001 for some time before the 2004 birth of her son.

She returned in 2007 when the MTC was in need of a Samoan teacher, then taking over the supervisor’s role in 2009 just as the MTC was starting to transition for its September 2010 relocation to Auckland and has been the only operations manager in Auckland.

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Timena Gasu, New Zealand Missionary Training Center training and operation manager, teaches online from her office at the New Zealand MTC in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Having seen plenty of changes — from physical facilities to training curriculum — over the years, Gasu welcomes the principle- and standards-based emphasis of missionary training rather than simply setting and enforcing rules to create an expectation for obedience.

“I see that it’s important to teach them great principles and doctrine and let them govern themselves,” she said, also underscoring how “Preach My Gospel” and ongoing curriculum adjustments help missionaries learn and teach with the Spirit. “They enjoy it more, because they’re not forced to just memorize.”

Missionaries from North and South America assigned to train in New Zealand “lifts the learning curve for the Polynesian missionaries from the South Pacific,” Gasu said. “Having the American missionaries helps them to live in a way to be obedient, to see the example of studying, to be encouraged and to be mentored. That’s the positivity of having them come.”

Conversely, the American missionaries can learn traits such as humility, hard work and deep faith from their Polynesian counterparts.

Her operations role requires balancing a variety of tasks, from training the teachers to interacting with the missionaries in workshops and overseeing everything contracted out, including cooking and cleaning and maintenance. And some post-pandemic challenges working with visas, travel restrictions and such still continue.

A new neighbor

For years, the MTC and adjacent meetinghouse stood majestically on open fields overlooking New Zealand’s State Highway 1 and under the flight patterns of jets arriving to and departing from the Auckland Airport just a 15-minute drive to the west.

But for the past 2 1/2 years, the grounds have given away to the construction of the new Auckland New Zealand Temple right outside the MTC’s front door, following the temple’s June 13, 2020, groundbreaking.

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The construction site of the Auckland New Zealand Temple is pictured next to the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

President Russell M. Nelson announced a temple for Auckland during the October 2018 general conference and then later publicly identified its location on Manukau City’s Redoubt Road while visiting Auckland during his Pacific ministry in May 2019.

“To have the MTC in the shadow of the temple will be magnificent and inspirational,” said President Dil, with training missionaries in the past having to travel some 105 kilometers (65 miles) one way by bus to attend the Hamilton New Zealand Temple. “Missionaries will be able to walk to go to the temple on preparation day.”

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President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, walk on ground for the new temple in Auckland, New Zealand, on May 21, 2019.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

It will be a different kind of use by training missionaries. “It was a nice, big property — they used to play touch rugby on what is now the temple site,” said Sister Dil, adding with a smile. “They’ve had sport on hallowed ground.”

Actually, the Hamilton temple was closed for renovations from July 2018 through its October 2022 rededication, so MTC leaders and missionaries have welcomed the returned access to the temple there until the Auckland temple is finished and dedicated.

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With the under-construction steeple of the Auckland New Zealand Temple overlooking the courtyard, Elder Joshua Haworth cleans rugs at the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Because of the time and distance to travel to Hamilton, training missionaries often went to the temple just once during their time at the New Zealand MTC. Once the neighboring temple is dedicated and operating, missionaries will be able to attend at least weekly — a welcome opportunity for missionaries from areas throughout the South Pacific where perhaps they had only one temple experience — their own endowment session — prior to starting their mission, President Dil said.

What they are saying

Missionaries among the first to resume on-site training at the New Zealand MTC late last year said the following about their experiences:

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Sister Olivia Tonas and Sister Brianne Bartschi do companion study at the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

What were your expectations? — “I got the assignment here a few weeks before I was to leave — I was expecting to go to Provo, so it was a good surprise because I’ve always wanted to come to New Zealand. I was expecting to see the beautiful area here and the MTC, and I was looking forward to learning more about how to teach and how to teach simply.” — Sister Brianne Bartschi, Stevensville, Montana, assigned to the Australia Perth Mission.

What preconceived notions did you have about training in a smaller MTC? — “I’ve toured the Provo MTC before. When I came here and looked it over and saw how exactly small it was, I was like ‘Oh, OK.” … But because it’s so small, we know everyone here, we’ve come together as a family, and it just really close-knit.” — Elder Joshua Haworth, Rexburg, Idaho, assigned to the Australia Adelaide Mission

What helps you feel the Spirit at the New Zealand MTC? — “When I forget myself and get to work, when I remember that I’m learning for the people who I’m going to be serving. It’s not all about me — it’s about them, and it’s about my Savior.” — Elder Isaac Masima, Sydney Australia, assigned to the Australia Perth Mission

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Elder Joshua Haworth and Elder Toli Toilalo study at the New Zealand Missionary Training Center in Auckland, New Zealand, on Monday, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

What have you told family and friends? — “I’ve said that it’s really small, but that just makes it even better, because we are all super close here. I’ve gotten to know like every single person here, and everyone has really strong testimonies, and that has helped build my own testimony here as well.” — Sister Olivia Tonas, Sacramento, California, assigned to the Australia Perth Mission

What has helped your testimony grow at the New Zealand MTC? — “The other missionaries have helped strengthen my testimony a lot, as have the teachers, just making the training realistic and being honest. It helps so much.” — Elder Toli Toilalo, Sydney, Australia, assigned to the Australia Perth Mission

What does it mean to be a training missionary and go outside and see the building of the temple next door? — “Joy. I just feel joy. And as I learn more knowledge about the gospel of Jesus Christ, here and in the temple, I’m able to help other people understand what it means as well.” — Elder Samuel Arnott, Sydney, Australia, assigned to the Australia Adelaide Mission

At a glance

New Zealand Missionary Training Center

Address: 19 Redoubt Road, Goodwood Heights, Manukau City, New Zealand

Opened: In 1977 in Hamilton, New Zealand

Relocated: In September 2010 to Manukau City, a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand

Current capacity: 106 missionaries

Training: For missionaries serving in Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga and other locations throughout the South Pacific

Training languages: English, English as a Second Language , French, Samoan, and Tongan — the latter three for native speakers only