Thursday, July 12, 2018


How could we leave this beautiful country without discussing the word “Kiwi”? The Kiwi is a strange wingless bird entirely indigenous to New Zealand. It is nocturnal and rather reclusive so it is not very often seen in the wild. However we were able to go to a small habitat for them in Otorohanga. There we were able to see a large Brown Kiwi hunting for insects with his long beak. Here’s a small chick- notice their huge clawed feet!

But that’s not the only Kiwi. There’s also Kiwi fruit.
We had no idea they grew like this! Pickers just walk underneath. Our favorite is the golden kind that taste like a kiwi flavored banana or maybe like a banana flavored Kiwi? Delish!
And there’s another kind of Kiwi.  

There’s the people who refer to themselves as Kiwis-

And they’re the best Kiwis of all! This picture was taken at our branch conference in March and includes a couple of Kiwi-wannabes. We love the mixing of Pakehas (white folk) and Maoris and a couple of Tongans that make up our beautiful group. Oh how we’ll miss them all.  

Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O’Neal

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Going is harder than Coming!

Now that we only have two weeks left, we realized we still need pictures of some of our dear friends. So we’ve been making everybody pose. These two sisters are in the Group here in Whitianga. Lia (with baby John) is in the process of getting divorced from an abusive husband and lives with her sister, Line (pronounced Lee-nay)whose husband was working. The sisters are from Tonga and we have learned so much about their country and customs from them. They are both legal residents of New Zealand but the next time they go to Tonga to visit, they want us to come over there so they can show us their home. We’d love to go!

Then there’s Jim. We met him because he was on our meal delivery route. He lives alone (though his ex-wife Catherine, does come by to check up on him) and up until lately has kept up a large garden of veggies, flowers, bushes and trees. When he mentioned to us one day how frustrating it was to not be so spry anymore, we offered to come help him. So we’ve gone to his home twice a month or so besides every Monday for the meals. He loves us coming and we love him! Catherine has even kept us in fresh made jam- Quince, plum and marmalade.

And then, today, all the sweet ladies from my sewing group invited me out to lunch to say good-bye and I made them have their picture taken too. Don’t they look like so much fun?

They are from L-R: Margaret ( who just found out she has terminal colon cancer 😢), Denise, Tina, Trish (the school sewing teacher), and Maree. I don’t think I like good-byes.

Kia Ora, Elder and sister O’Neal

Monday, July 2, 2018

Rugby- Their national sport

Rugby is HUGE in New Zealand. We’ve been to two games live now, one in Auckland (the Blues) when we picked up Kurt 3 1/2 years ago and one a year ago in Hamilton (the Chiefs) with the senior missionaries. They are regional rugby union teams. Last week we got to watch the All Blacks (the national union team) on TV at the Higgins’ home on Cook’s Beach. It was this month’s version of the Group’s FHE. Of course it includes tons of food and fun company.

And, as usual, the All Blacks easily beat the other team which happened to be France. Half of our group is a family from France so it made for a healthy rivalry. And France did put up a good fight.

Everyone in the country is rugby fans and hopeful players. Our little town even has it’s own Rugby Club and field. 
And little Antonin (AJ) Ribet got picked for player of the game last week. He was able to bring his trophy to the FHE TV game and show off to everyone.

Now if we just knew what was going on! It’s been quite fun trying to figure it out. But why do they call it a “try” when they actually get the ball across the line and get points? That seems more like a “succeed”. We have a lot to learn.  
Kia ora, Elder and Sister O’Neal

Thursday, June 7, 2018

7 Weeks

Our time in this beautiful, wonderful country is drawing to a close. Last week we went to what may be our last zone conference. As we sat there, we marveled at the Spirit that is felt in those meetings. President Cummings and his wife are always prepared with such touching, wise counsel and our interviews with the President after the conference always makes us feel so loved and appreciated.

While we were in Hamilton, our Stake presidency wanted to thank us for our service and take us out to dinner so we met with President Anderson and his wife, President Hamon and his wife and Elder and Sister Mumford at a Chinese restaurant called Victor’s Place. Our table was a big round one with a lazy Susan in the middle so we each ordered a dish and all shared. We had great food and even better company.

We intended to stay for a few days but once we get away from our home we seem to just think it would be great to get back. So, although we had driven there on Tuesday, we came back on Wednesday. We did manage to fit in a visit to the Temple as well so our two days were pretty well packed.
Because we were not home until late on Wednesday, I missed my sewing group but I got to go today. Trish, the sewing teacher and spearhead of our sewing group, insisted that she take a picture of the one thousandth bag I’d sewn, so here’s that pic:

Of course I’m still sewing and adding more bags to the effort to make the peninsula plastic-free but when school is out for the next break I will hand in my sewing machine and be finished. I have about 4 more weeks. It will be sad to say good-bye to all the sweet friends and fellow seamstresses I’ve met at the school. 

Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O’Neal

Thursday, May 17, 2018

John's Baptism

Over a year ago we began teaching John. His wife is a less-active member to whom he’s been married for 30 years. They have three children that are grown and are legal guardians for two grandchildren. John was ready for baptism a year ago but he got a nasty virus that attacked his heart. He’s been trying to regain his health ever since then. A month ago, Elder O’Neal again challenged him to be baptized and he accepted! On Saturday, 13 May, we drove down to Hamilton, 3 hours away, so we could go to the chapel of his in-laws and use a font (the rivers up here would be way too cold). It was a beautiful service. We even got permission to also give him the Gift of the Holy Ghost  and the Aaronic Priesthood since his family wanted to participate in the ordinances. John is in the middle, Liam the nephew on his left performed the baptism and Graeme (his father-in-law) to the left of Liam confirmed him. Elder O’Neal bestowed on him the Aaronic Priesthood and ordained him to be a priest.

Then on Sunday we had our monthly FHE where it was our last turn to host🙁. We were only missing 3 members of our group and had 14 attending. There’s always way more food than we can eat. And it was a delight to have John’s family attend and get to know us all.

Also, for the last year or so, Elder O’Neal has been able to volunteer in Bruce’s panelbeating shop (body shop). Bruce has not been to church since he was 14 or so and keeps accusing Elder O’Neal of trying to get him to go back to church (which would be awesome). Actually I think Buddy loves playing with all of Bruce’s tools and having access to them has also helped him to fix lots of things for others. It’s been a win-win situation. P.S. We snuck this picture when Bruce wasn’t looking.

We love it here! Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O’Neal

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A short trip to Gisborne

This week, we had a zone conference in Hamilton. Whenever that happens, we try to pack as much as possible into the time away from our Peninsula. We left Monday and arrived in time for me to get a haircut and stop at a craft store for some thread and then buy a bit of food from the store. We then checked into our home away from home at the “Nunnery” (called that because many years ago, single women traveling to attend the Temple would stay there)

Tuesday we spent most of the day at the Temple and then went out for dinner with a member that Kurt introduced to us 3 years ago when we were here, Grant Pearse. Wednesday was our all-day conference with a visiting General Authority, Ian S. Ardern. We were also delightfully surprised to meet up with a missionary we served with a year ago when he and Elder Osborn were living in Thames, Elder Mortensen 

We loved getting to catch up with him. He’s now serving in Cambridge and will be out until September and then go home to Hawaii. On Thursday, we picked another Sr. couple, the Mumfords and headed to Gisborne.

We saw a sunset and then a sunrise the next day. At that place in Poverty Bay, they claim to be the first people in the world to see the sun rise. We had a delightful trip and ended up by stopping at Rere Falls on the way home.

This country never disappoints!  Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O’Neal

Monday, April 16, 2018

Our new Branch Presidency

After a month without a Branch President, we finally had a new presidency sustained and set apart. On March 25th, we attended the Coromandel Branch where Samuel Napia was sustained as the President with Kohai Renate as first counselor. President Napia actually lives in Thames about an hour away from Coromandel Town and was going to a different branch until our Stake President called him to travel up to our branch for his new calling. He and his wife, Robyn are a wonderful addition to our little congregation. Kohai (on the left) was a first counselor for President Hammon too and he is a great assistant. 

Our second counselor to President Napia is Steve Higgins. He attends the Whitianga Group and will also be the new Group Leader. He was sustained the same day but while attending in Whitianga so he is not in the same picture.

It is great to be correctly structured again. Our group in Whitianga will even be returning to the 2 hour block and new callings have been made to have a Primary president and a Sunday School teacher again.  And here’s a beautiful picture of the road between the two towns, lined with Gum trees, as we travelled from one to the other.

Kia Ora, Elder and Sister O’Neal