Area Conferences in a ‘New Land Apart’
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“Area Conferences in a ‘New Land Apart’” Ensign, Feb. 1980, 77

Area Conferences in a “New Land Apart”

And it may be that we who live

In this new land apart …

May read the riddle right, and give

New hope to those who dimly see …

And teach the world at length to be

One vast united brotherhood.

In these lines from his “Song of the Future,” the noted Australian poet A. B. (Banjo) Paterson identifies the mood and the theme—“one vast united brotherhood”—that marked the five New Zealand and Australia area conferences held during late October and early November.

There was brotherhood in the warm greetings of New Zealand Prime Minister Robert David Muldoon as he addressed a luncheon in Wellington:

“I am sorry that President Spencer W. Kimball was not able to come as he intended. We wish him well.” He added, “We admire the work your church does in our country. It is an important influence for good in New Zealand. You are welcome and among friends here.”

That spirit of welcome and brotherhood was also present in the greetings of other government officials of both countries.

With President Kimball absent as he recovered from surgery, President Tanner headed the delegation from Church headquarters.

Participating with him in conferences in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand, and Melbourne, Adelaide, and Sydney, Australia, were President Ezra Taft Benson, Elder Howard W. Hunter, and Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder Loren C. Dunn of the First Quorum of the Seventy and executive administrator for the two countries; Bishop H. Burke Peterson, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric; Barbara B. Smith, general president of Relief Society; Elaine A. Cannon, general president of the Young Women; David M. Kennedy, special representative of the First Presidency; and D. Arthur Haycock, personal secretary to President Kimball.

For at least this observer, there were refreshing, constantly recurring evidences that love, friendship, and concern—the elements of brotherhood—are palpable presences that span years and continents and link the hearts of scattered Israel. For instance:

—President N. Eldon Tanner’s moving account of the 1832 conversion of John Tanner, his great-great-grandfather, took on an added dimension and a new glow when President and Sister Tanner embraced their grandson, Elder Douglas Rhodes, a missionary in Sydney. The eighth generation of the Tanner family is now serving the Church, the legacy of the work of two long-ago missionaries.

—President Ezra Taft Benson recalled that it was “115 years ago that my father-in-law joined the Church in Christchurch, New Zealand.” A former jeweler for a tsar of Russia, Carl C. Amussen had picked up off the street a pamphlet, “Voice of Warning,” written by Parley P. Pratt. Subsequently baptized, he returned to Europe to share his “pearl of great price” with family members, migrated to Utah, and later completed successful missions to New Zealand, Australia, and his native Denmark.

—Throughout Australia, Elder Howard W. Hunter was constantly meeting people who had come into the Church during the four years—1956–60—that his two sons were missionaries there. The older son completed his two years’ service on the day the second son arrived in Australia.

—In Wellington, New Zealand, seven members approached Elder Marvin J. Ashton and his wife, Norma, and expressed gratitude for their son Stephen who had baptized them and nineteen others as a missionary ten years earlier.

—In the center spread of the printed program for the Melbourne area conference was a picture of young people gathered in the 1950s for a youth conference in Melbourne. Among those pictured were Elder Loren C. Dunn (then, as now, a missionary) and at least thirty-eight others who are currently serving in executive positions in stakes, wards, and missions in Australia.

—Mr. and Mrs. Bob J. Belbin, now of Hamilton, New Zealand, joined the Church in 1950 in Ipswich, Australia, baptized by Elder George Fairbanks of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Pausing to chat after Brother Belbin had been set apart by President Tanner as an officiator in the New Zealand Temple, the Belbins shared their gratitude that Chris, their second son, was then at the Missionary Training Center, preparing to serve in the Canada Calgary Mission. Seeds planted by a Canadian thirty years ago are returning to bless that country, via Australia and New Zealand.

President Kimball’s recovery from surgery was naturally a major concern throughout the conferences. So, each morning President Tanner would call Salt Lake City and speak to the President and report their conversation to the members, except for one day, when as President Tanner explained, “President Kimball was out of his room, visiting the sick on the fifth and sixth floors of LDS Hospital.”

There was gratifying evidence that President Kimball’s counsel on missionary work from 1976 New Zealand and Australia area conferences had been taken to heart.

President John D. Jeffrey of the Brisbane Australia South Stake explained that in 1974 there had been only four full-time missionaries serving from the Brisbane Region. As of 1 December 1979, there were forty full-time missionaries from the same region, serving in fifteen different missions worldwide.

Douglas James Martin, a Regional Representative residing in Hamilton, New Zealand, similarly reported that during the 1960s between 50 and 100 New Zealand Saints had accepted mission calls, but that during the 1970s more than 500 had served worldwide.

Attendance at the priesthood meeting in the Sydney Town Hall was three times what it was nearly three years earlier during the first Sydney area conference, a typical experience in the whirlwind conference tour.

Steady growth is also continuing with approximately 50,000 members in each of the two countries, a near doubling in nine years. Australia now has five missions and eleven stakes, while New Zealand has three missions and thirteen stakes. More than 5,000 students are enrolled in seminary and institute.

All of this provided a backdrop for the continuing challenge described by Bishop H. Burke Peterson as our important responsibility “to learn of the Savior and to live like the Savior; not merely to know, but to do. To discover what it is to be a disciple of Christ, we must serve.”

Buttressing this testimony were these sermons in a sentence:

“We belong to the Church of Jesus Christ and he directs the Church through a prophet of God, Spencer W. Kimball.”—President N. Eldon Tanner.

“The way you can change people’s lives is the same way the Savior did, with love.”—Barbara B. Smith.

“My plea to you is that we strengthen our families so that our memories of home may be happy ones, that our home life may be a foretaste of heaven.”—President Ezra Taft Benson.

“The manner of our living, not our words, fashions our children’s character.”—President Tanner.

“Never forget that the family is the cornerstone of stability in the word.”—Elder Ashton.

“Go home and write about what you feel today; a life recorded is a life twice lived.”—Sister Cannon.

“What we must be willing to do is to sacrifice whatever is required of us, whether time, or talent, or riches, or the praise and honor of men, or whatever it may be, to the extent the Lord may require it.”—Elder Dunn.

“Relief Society is not a women’s club, it is a gift from God to the women of the world.”—Sister Smith.

“We need diligent women who love their husbands into gentility.”—Sister Smith.

“The most important reason for the priesthood is to be a good father and husband.”—Bishop Peterson.

“In the temple I have seen the prophet on his knees with the Brethren around him, praying for young people, for the Lord to keep them from evil.”—Elder Hunter.

“The work of mature missionary couples is worthy of the highest praise.”—David M. Kennedy.

“Don’t be timid in spiritual matters.”—President Tanner.

“No one could know missionaries and not believe in miracles.”—Elder Hunter.

“Testimonies touch us more deeply than teachings.”—Elder Ashton.

“Keep our missionaries off the street: give a referral today.”—Bulletin board notice in Auckland, New Zealand, Mt. Roskill Stake center.

Finally, Elder Ashton challenged all who attended the area conferences: “If you love Spencer W. Kimball, do what he asked you to do.”

That was summarized in these words of President Kimball himself, in a message read by D. Arthur Haycock, his personal secretary:

“Every man and woman should return home from these conferences with a determination that they will take the gospel to their relatives and their friends.”

Thus did the message resound through newspaper, radio and television interviews, and during eight general sessions, one of which was televised nationwide over twenty-three Australian stations from the Sydney Opera House. And in five priesthood meetings, five women’s meetings, five missionary meetings, separate workshops with Relief Society and Young Women leaders in each of five cities, and a special meeting with workers in the New Zealand Temple.

Or, as stated unequivocally on signs posted throughout the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney:

“Do the right thing.”

  • Jerry P. Cahill is director of press relations, Church Public Communications Department.

Thousands of Saints gather in Adelaide, Australia, to hear area conference addresses.

The Sydney Opera House, where area conference sessions were held.