Delivered by Nancy and Michael Harward in a sacrament meeting of the Dinsdale Ward, Hamilton New Zealand Rotokauri Stake, Sunday 12 July 2020

NTH: About Elder Harward

When Bishop Keung asked us to speak today, he gave us both the same assignment: tell a little about yourselves, where you’re from, and what you do as Church history missionaries. So we decided to mix it up and do this jointly. I’m going to begin by telling you a little about Elder Harward, and then he’s going to share the other side of our story.

When Elder Harward was five years old, his father, who was a pilot for the U.S. Navy, was killed in a plane crash, so his mother moved the family back to the little town in Idaho where both she and her husband had grown up, 300 km north of Salt Lake City, Utah. Michael was the youngest of four children, but when he was ten, his mother remarried and he became the second youngest of their blended family of eight children. Although potato farming provided a livelihood for many of the town’s largely LDS residents, Elder Harward’s mother and stepfather owned and operated an office supply store.

Young Michael did not want to become a potato farmer or the manager of an office supply store. He loved music, culture, and philosophy, so when he went to BYU-Provo, that’s what he studied. We met there as first-year students, living in the same dorm complex and singing in the same choir. We went on exactly one date that year, but became great friends. At the end of the year, Elder Harward left to serve a mission in Paris, France, where he learned to appreciate fine cuisine and efficient public transportation.

The story of how our relationship progressed from a great friendship to marriage is a long one that we won’t go into today; suffice it to say that we were married in the Los Angeles California Temple before we both graduated from BYU. By this time Elder Harward had decided that he wanted to become a university professor, but after spending a few years in graduate school, he realized that because openings for liberal arts professors were scarce, he probably should change course. When he heard that a local company was offering to train qualified applicants in the relatively new field of computer programming, Elder Harward signed on. Information technology thus became his career, although he has never abandoned his love for music nor for teaching.

Leading the singing in Primary—which he did for about five years when our four children were all of Primary age—was one of his favorite callings, although I think his absolute favorite was being the nursery leader. He also has served as a Gospel Doctrine teacher, elders quorum president, bishop (which he loved almost as much as nursery leader), YSA branch president, and high councilor (not his favorite calling).

MTH: About Sister Harward

Sister Harward grew up in Southern California, close enough to Disneyland that she could see the fireworks from her bedroom window. She is the youngest of four sisters. Her mother was an active Latter-day Saint whose ancestors were some of the Church’s earliest members, but her father, whose ancestors were some of the earliest American colonists, was not LDS. Sister Harward never thought of hers as a part-member family, however, because her father always attended Sunday meetings and activities with them. During her last year of high school, he decided to be baptized.

Sister Harward graduated from BYU-Provo before I did. While I was finishing school, she taught part-time and also painted sets for the Donny and Marie Show.

Graduate school led us to the eastern half of the U.S. and subsequent employment opportunities kept us there, far from our parents and most of our siblings. Since 1996, we have lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, but by now, our children have scattered across the U.S. so we have to depend on WhatsApp and Marco Polo to see and talk with our eleven grandchildren.

Sister Harward likes to sing and write, and is an excellent cook. She has served in Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary presidencies; she has taught Seminary, and Sunday School for both youth and adults. She has been a stake public affairs specialist and a FamilySearch consultant, and was the cook at YW camp for five years. Until we left for our mission, both of us had the blessing of serving as ordinance workers in the Columbus Ohio Temple.

We had always planned on serving a mission together once we turned 65 and retired. More than a year before that time, however, I saw an opening for Church history specialists in Hamilton, New Zealand, among the opportunities listed on a Church website for senior missionaries. We had just learned that our friends, the Garlicks, were on their way to Hamilton to become the directors of the Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Centre. So we decided to contact the Garlicks to find out what qualifications one needed to become a Church history specialist missionary in New Zealand. They said, “You’re qualified! Come!” So they put us in contact with their advisers in the Church History Department and we began preparing our missionary application—and ourselves. We were happy when the call came, even though it meant leaving for a mission earlier than we had planned. We are so grateful now that we followed the spirit then, because had we waited until we turned 65, we would still be in the U.S.—thanks to the pandemic—and would have missed the opportunity and blessing of serving as missionaries in New Zealand right now.

NTH: Stir them up in remembrance 

Following the spirit, Alma the Younger gave up his job as the chief judge over the Nephites sooner than expected because he, too, felt called to serve a mission. He could see “that the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes, … and they began to be scornful, one towards another.” So Alma left the judgment seat and went forth “among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty” (Alma 4:8, 19).

Speaking to church members gathered in Zarahemla, he asked, “Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them?” He goes on to retell the story of how his father Alma believed Abinadi’s testimony of redemption through Jesus Christ, and how Alma then “preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved” from captivity and destruction (see Alma 5:6, 11-13).

Alma understood the importance of remembering the past, and especially of remembering how the Lord had blessed those who trusted in him.

As Church history missionaries at the Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Centre, our assignment is to preserve stories and artifacts that can help people now and in the future remember the many ways that the Lord blesses his children. Today we’re going to share some of our favorite inspirational stories from the past with you.

MTH: Feeding the Labour Missionaries

Feeding all the labour missionaries who built the Church College of New Zealand and the Hamilton Temple was not an easy task. Most of the food was sourced from local branches, who themselves were often stretched thin and had no more to give. Sometimes the labour missionaries would complain to Nanny Raiha, the cook, that the soup she was feeding them was the same as yesterday’s. “No it’s not,” she shot back. “Today I put more water in it.”

So at one particularly low time, there was no food left at all. And there was no cash on hand to buy food from local suppliers. Elder Biesinger, the project supervisor, called all the missionaries together in the dining hall and announced that they were going to have a fast. Note his positive approach to a dire situation. Of course they were going to have a fast! They had no choice.

But he had everyone kneel in prayer at the beginning of the fast and prayed that they would be delivered from their plight. After the prayer, the workers returned to their stations and finished their work for the day.

The next morning at their daily devotional, they prayed again for deliverance and then went to work. Elder Biesinger gathered them all again in the middle of the day, and again they all knelt in prayer, invoking the Lord’s blessing. By this time, everyone knew how dire a situation they were in. Their prayer had real meaning for them.

Just as they were saying amen, they heard the sound of trucks pulling into the camp. The trucks had driven from Hawkes Bay, full of food and supplies for the workers. God had answered the prayers of the faithful.

NTH: Les Clarke

Les Clarke (second from left) and Lionel Hippolite (far right) and other sparkies in the basement of the unfinished New Zealand Temple. (Image courtesy of the Church History Department)

Later, after President David O. McKay announced that a temple would be added to the construction project in Hamilton, the labour missionaries’ crew managers realized that building a temple would require even more of them than the college had. This new temple needed special electronic equipment for its innovative audiovisual presentations. Cyril Clarke, head of the sparkies, knew just who to call to take charge of wiring the building: his brother Les, who was then in Canada attending the University of Alberta.

Les Clarke accepted the call to come back to New Zealand. By all accounts, he was a master of his trade. In his oral history, Lionel Hippolite, one of Les’s assistants, said: “Let me tell you how good Les Clarke was.” He then explained that just about every electrician working on a home or a commercial job will get at least one Defective Installation Notice when the inspectors come around. But when the temple was finished, the inspectors went from top to bottom and did not issue a single Defective Installation Notice. “That’s how good Les Clarke was.”

But Les’s wife, Velma, knew that her husband’s success was not just a matter of skill. She later wrote that “Les was overwhelmed by the assignment he had been given.” After the site for the temple had been pegged out, one evening when all was quiet, Les walked up the hill “and like Joshua of old, he walked around the temple site seven times. Then [he] knelt in the dark and claimed a blessing from the Lord that he would make him equal to the task ahead.”

Les loved and appreciated the men who had been assigned to help him. “They were humble and teachable,” Velma recalled. “After much fasting and prayer the electrical work on the New Zealand temple was completed, receiving an A-1 pass [from] a team of six electrical inspectors two days before the dedication of the temple. This experience Les considered the most humbling of his entire life.”

MTH: The Cummings Family

When the New Zealand Temple was announced in 1955, Donald and Margaret Cummings of Perth, Australia, set a goal: they wanted to take their young family to the dedication and then into the temple to be sealed together. The Cummings were not well off, so they fasted and prayed, and then worked very hard to save as much as they could. They sold most of their possessions, including their car. But by the time the temple was finished, the Cummings still were not even close to having enough money to go as a family. Trusting that somehow the Lord would provide a way for them to get to the temple dedication, Brother Cummings went ahead and quit his job, knowing that he would be away from work for several weeks while they made the trip. Their prayers were answered when Donald’s father and Margaret’s parents each offered to donate half of what the family still needed to pay for the long journey.

It took the Cummings five days to travel by train from Perth to Sydney. But when they arrived, they discovered that the boat that was to take them to Auckland had been delayed, so they would not get to Hamilton in time for the dedication.

Somehow, an anonymous donor found out about their situation and provided tickets for the entire family to fly to New Zealand, where they were sealed and enjoyed the blessings of the temple.

On their return to Perth, Brother Cummings was blessed with a new and better job. Eventually, he became president of both the Sydney and Perth Temples. In 2016, his son, Jeffrey, returned to Temple View as president of the New Zealand Hamilton Mission.

NTH: Vaha’i Tonga Stays Faithful

Vahai Tonga (back row, far right) and his family, 1957. He and his wife were the very first couple to be sealed in the New Zealand Temple. (image courtesy of the Church History Department)

Vaha’i Tonga and his wife also sacrificed much to attend the New Zealand Temple, but I want to tell you about some experiences he had when he was a young boy.

Vaha’i was born in 1918 on a small island in Tonga, the second in a family of seven boys. When Vaha’i was eight years old, his father died, so his mother moved the family to the main island where her family lived. Most of the family were Protestants, but Vaha’i’s uncle, John Filipe had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For a few years, John Filipe took Vaha’i to Primary, but then he and his wife were called away on a mission. Vaha’i’s grandparents didn’t approve of the Latter-day Saints and didn’t let him go to Primary anymore, but when some of his LDS friends invited him to go to Sunday School with them, he went. Vaha’i loved Sunday School, so he went back again and again, even though he was afraid that his grandparents would be angry if they found out that he was going.

When Vaha’i turned twelve, he decided that he wanted to be baptized. John Filipe encouraged him, so Vaha’i asked his older brother to go with him and be baptized, too. The two boys were scared that their grandparents would punish them when they learned that they had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But as soon as they came home from the baptismal service, Vaha’i had a strong feeling that he should be bold and tell everyone in the family what they had done. He was surprised and relieved when his grandparents said, “Okay. From today you are a member of that church. We want you to keep faithful.”

Vaha’i did keep faithful. Soon after he was baptized, he began attending a government boarding school, where he was the only LDS student. Vaha’i’s Sunday School teacher had taught him the importance of personal and family prayer. On his first night in the dormitory, Vaha’i knelt by his bed and tried to pray, but the other boys were very noisy. One of his roommates stood right next to him and loudly called out, “Look and listen. Here is Joseph Smith. He is praying now!” The other boys laughed, but that did not stop Vaha’i from praying every night.

By the next week, the boy who had made fun of him the first night began telling the other boys to be quiet while Vaha’i was praying. He would sit quietly on his bed until Vaha’i was finished. After several more nights, that boy began kneeling beside Vaha’i. Soon, all of the boys were kneeling with them, having family prayer.

Later, Vaha’i invited his classmates to attend a district conference of the Church. They had to sign a paper for permission to leave campus for the weekend. Seventy-seven boys signed up to go with Vaha’i. They formed a team to participate in the sports competitions that were part of the conference. The boys had fun, but more important, they felt the spirit and wanted to learn more about the restored gospel. Seven students from Vaha’i’s school were baptized before the conference was over.

One day, the school’s principal asked Vaha’i to stand up in front of his classmates. “Today we will call the Mormon boy to be our prefect. He is trustworthy and I am proud of him,” the principal said. From that time on, no one at the school ever teased Vaha’i about his religion. He remained a faithful Latter-day Saint all through his life.

MTH: A Loaf of Bread

Latter-day Saint missionaries serving in New Zealand, at the Tamaki Marae, 1895. James E. Fisher is seated in front, third from the right, (Image courtesy of the Church History Department)

This story is taken from the journal of Elder James E. Fisher, an American missionary who served in New Zealand from 1892-94.

“We were travelling by horseback this particular day. Homesickness and concern for loved ones left behind were constant companions, added to this were the ever-present afflictions of the body–hunger and fatigue. Nothing would suit us better than to have something to eat that was different than the Maori fare we existed on. We were humbled and grateful to the Maori people who constantly gave of their food to sustain us during our sacred work but our yearning to taste again the food of our homeland was great.

“My companion suggested that since we were in a heavily wooded area and no one was on the road, we should have a few words of prayer. He suggested that we might even ask our Father in Heaven for something to eat. We got off our horses, retired into the woods, knelt down, and said a sincere prayer. After the offering of this prayer, we arose, and feeling comforted and spiritually lifted, rode on.

“After riding just a short distance ahead, we found lying on the road a sweet, fresh loaf of bread wrapped in a white cloth. My companion and I were so pleased to come upon this ‘manna from heaven’ we each wrote home to our wives telling of the incident. Three months later, my companion received a letter from his wife. She wrote that on that very same day, she had been baking bread. When she opened her oven, one of the pans was empty and a white cloth placed on the table was gone. She had been home all the time and saw no one come in or leave.”

NTH: Spiritually Defining Memories

All of these stories are what Elder Neil L. Andersen called “spiritually defining memories.” In our last General Conference, he said: “When personal difficulty, doubt, or discouragement darken our path, or when world conditions beyond our control lead us to wonder about the future, the spiritually defining memories from our book of life are like luminous stones that help brighten the road ahead, assuring that God knows us, loves us, and has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to help us return home. … Embrace your sacred memories. Believe them. Write them down. Share them with your family” (April 2020, “Spiritually Defining Memories”).

Nephi, too, understood that writing and sharing his sacred memories would bless his descendants. As he was closing the record of his most spiritual experiences, he wrote: “The words which I have written … will be made strong unto [my people]; for it persuadeth them to do good; it maketh known unto them of their fathers; and it speaketh of Jesus, and persuadeth them to believe in him and to endure to the end, which is life eternal” (2 Nephi 33:4).

MTH: I Choose to Believe

Remembering stories from the past makes us stronger as we liken the experiences of our fathers and mothers, our uncles and aunties, to ourselves, and feel their faith in the Savior growing within us. Now I don’t think Nephi was saying that Jesus has to be in the cast of characters of every story we tell. In fact, he wasn’t specifically mentioned in any of the stories we told today. But faith in Christ is at the foundation of all of them.

I think that remembering and sharing does something else for us. Let’s consider the story of the loaf of bread wrapped in a white cloth. The natural, rational man in me wants to dismiss the story as preposterous. Loaves of bread just don’t disappear in Utah and reappear in New Zealand. No way on earth is this possible.

However, I testify that when I choose to believe in the miracle of the loaf of bread and the white cloth, I am choosing to believe in the goodness of the Savior. The story makes me stronger because I choose to believe in miracles. I choose to believe that Jesus fed the 4000.

NTH: I choose to believe that God delivered the labor missionaries from hunger by sending trucks of food from Hawkes Bay.

MTH: I choose to believe that God wanted the Cummings family to go to the temple.

NTH: I choose to believe that when the sparkies were wiring the temple, their hands were divinely guided.

MTH: I choose to believe that the prayers of a young boy are heard and can have a lasting impact on the world.

NTH: I choose to believe in the atoning power of the Savior.

MTH: We choose to live in a world where miracles happen, where God plays a real part, where we can be strong, where we can grow and progress and become like our Heavenly Parents as we follow the example and teachings of their beloved Son.

Of this we testify in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.