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Sharing gospel in new ways in New Zealand

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND — Simple queries made more than a year ago have helped expand the work of members and missionaries of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple Visitors Center.

After completing a twice-annual trip to the temple last year, members of the Church in New Zealand asked if it were possible for visitors center missionaries to share their firesides and concerts by traveling to wards and stakes around the North and South islands to present programs.

The first programs began in August 2000 with the aim of strengthening members throughout the country, as well as introducing the gospel to those who may never visit the center.

Since then, the firesides and concerts have been presented to members and investigators in areas as remote as Waimana on the North Island's east coast where members meet in a small community building, to the large stake centers in Wellington, Auckland and outside Hastings.

"There have been as few as 25 people, and as many as 1,700 at one fireside," said Elder Leo D. Leonard, director of the visitors center. During the year, more than 12,000 people have attended programs outside the visitors center, with 6,800 of those people requesting missionaries.

Providing the firesides and concerts has also been a means of visitors center missionary couples assisting the local leadership in remote areas. "In one six-month period, missionaries were able to help one branch with membership records, teach classes and speak in sacrament meeting. That program developed to where couple missionaries from the visitors center filled 24 speaking assignments in one month," Elder Leonard said.

"Any fireside or branch assistance is put in perspective of the goals of the visitors center and [its responsibility to conduct] tours and programs," said Elder Leonard.

Also during this time, as leaders of the visitors center considered how to tell the message of the Church to a broader audience, New Zealand Public Radio asked if the visitors center was interested in producing a radio program. Working under the direction of the area public affairs, a radio series was designed similar to the weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcasts.

"There are music and thoughts for everyday living," said Elder Leonard. "The written words of the late Richard L. Evans come alive again as read by select visitors center missionaries. The great teachings of Elder Evans are the most popular part of the program. After about 25 years, his thoughts are brought to life again. People call us wondering where they can obtain copies of his talks.

"In addition to reaching a few hundred people each month with our brochures, with the radio broadcasts we're able to reach thousands in an hour," said Elder Leonard.

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