So you’ve been called to serve a mission in New Zealand! Some insider tips for the Americans

I’ve been travelling over the last three weeks and last night I found myself in Provo with a group of friends when the discussion turned to mission preparation in the context of this wave of new young things who are about to be unleashed, bright eyed, and bushy tailed onto the world.

The thing about being in Utah is that you find out stuff if you hold your ear to the ground long enough.  Someone is always ready to spill the beans on a piece of juicy speculation – it’s delicious!  It turns out (according to bush telegraph) that there is a trending rate of early missionary returns; young people who find the ‘work’ difficult and want to come home, and parents who say, ‘Sure sweetie – whatever makes you happy!’

“Lack of resilience and resourcefulness”, came an explanation.

“Too much privilege and entitlement”, came another.

“Too many young people – especially in Utah, are raised in a world where their entire social life revolves around their big families.  This does little to prepare young people to understand and relate to those whose lives are lived outside of this rarified little box!”

Whatever the case may be, there are seem to be issues, and I intend, for the sake of US missionaries who have been, or will be called to New Zealand, to give you instruction – special insider tips you won’t get in the Missionary Training Centre!  I feel very confident that these well researched pointers will help you along your way, so that you won’t be wringing your hands in confusion as you serve way Down Under.

  1. New Zealand is diverse (except the North Shore where you might recognise a church that feels a bit more like Utah – it happens where you locate Church offices and import Americans to run the show – cultural mimicry, and all that).  In preparation, take a class on cultural competence and know that  in New Zealand you are NOT the norm, and everyone else an oddity.
  2. Get a sense of humour – particularly about yourself.   New Zealanders will punish you for taking yourself too seriously.
  3. New Zealanders may blame you personally for the War on Iraq and the Invasion of Afghanistan.  If you have no intelligent response, or  you sound like your opinion came from Fox News or out of Grandpa Joe’s very Republican face, you will be dismissed out of hand for being complicit.
  4. Get used to being called a Yank.  There are two kinds of Yanks.  The British version of a Yank – which refers to all Americans, and the American version that refers to Northerners.  Your kind of Yank is the first.
  5. Almost without exception, New Zealanders preferred Obama to Romney – even in the church.  You will score points with members and non-members alike if you can understand why.
  6. New Zealanders don’t live in McMansions of the kind one finds along the Wasatch Front.   This doesn’t mean New Zealanders are poor.  On the contrary, that modest bungalow that doesn’t sport a ‘rest-room’ for every bedroom in the house and a basement the size of a football field – probably cost more than your McMansion in Orem – even with the exchange rate.  New Zealand is an expensive place to live – period!
  7. If you hear nothing else, study rugby.  Begin with rugby union.  Being able to talk about the game, the competition, the teams and the players, will soften your relationship with members, who will, as a result of your rugby knowledge, introduce you to their friends and neighbours.  They will proudly show you off as an American who ‘gets it’.  I can’t stress this lesson enough – and I don’t care if you are male or female.  Study rugby.
  8. Eat the food you have been served and be gracious and grateful for it!  Food doesn’t come in bucket-sized portions for the price of small change.  Its expensive – so eat  that meal that has been prepared for you by that large humble Mormon family in their three bedroom bungalow – because it represents more than food, it also represents sacrifice.
  9. Offer/insist on clearing the table and doing the dishes.  It’s likely that mum or dad rushed home from work to cook you a meal from scratch in time for your 7pm appointment.  They will be tired and your offer to help will be an expression of gratitude for their effort.
  10. Take some on-line Maori language lessons before you arrive.  It is unlikely that the MTC will have caught up with the fact that New Zealand is a bicultural nation, so some competence in the language will be useful.
  11. Learn our history, you will be saved a lot of angst if you understand the socio-cultural context of our country.  You won’t get away with trying to preach the church without understanding what conversion to a Yank church will cost a New Zealander – socially and culturally.
  12. Māori and Polynesians aren’t ‘inherently’ spiritual, and their sometimes humble circumstances aren’t because they are ‘wonderful, faithful’ saints.   It’s because, at the dark heart of New Zealand there has been an historical core of racism.  So don’t romanticize the life of brown people who live simply – inequality is a political problem, not a lifestyle choice.
  13. Know the difference between Mormon culture and Christian theology because they aren’t the same – not by a long shot!
  14. Your most important evangelizing relationships will be with the members of your assigned ward.  You want them to trust you enough to send their friends your way.  But that won’t happen until you are respected.  This might be your first mission, but you are not their first missionary and there are many who are a bit jaded by how truly bad some missionaries have been.  You DON’T want the members’ indifference – you DO want access to their friends and its up to you to build authentic relationships with adults who will trust you enough to unleash you on their loved ones.
  15. New Zealand is a largely secular and morally liberal nation.  This doesn’t mean we are going to hell in a hand-basket.   Few people will bat an eye-lid at gay marriage, many will swear like troopers, wine drinking is an important  cultural institution, and pre-marital cohabitation is the norm.  Don’t freak out!  In a tight spot I’d rather be with a group of cursing, wine swilling, gay loving, cohabiting New Zealanders than any other people in the world – because, in my decades of experience, New Zealand has a habit of producing the real deal.   Earthy, raw, straight shooting, irreverent, hilarious, and caring folk.
  16.  The British fascination with bathroom humour and bodily functions made its way to New Zealand – so now you know!
  17. You have an accent.
  18. Hell and damn aren’t swear words.  Fanny refers to lady parts, a biscuit is a cookie, a lolly is candy, pie is usually of the meat variety and pink jello salad is not a main dish side.


Good luck my young friends.  Maybe we’ll bump into each other.  If we do meet, I have a wee cultural competence exam for you (based on the above) and my promise is, if you can pass it – I’ll line my friends up for you to teach!

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  • Raymond McIntyre

    Excellent message.

  • bekitty

    Good article, but I have one minor quibble: Yankees are Northerners, not Southerners.

    Other than that, you raise some pretty good points which could be valid for missionaries of any religion.

    • Gina Colvin

      My bad! I just changed it – cheers!

  • The Bidlet

    You just offended everyone east of the Mississippi by calling Southerners Yankee’s. Oops!

    • Gina Colvin

      Fixed it ages ago! Keep up lady! xx

  • dr44

    I enjoyed the article, and learned a lot about New Zealand from a wonderful sister missionary from Hamilton who served in our (non-Utah) ward. May I gently offer to pick a minor nit about a cultural assumption in your article – not all missionaries come from the Wasatch Front, which means not all missionaries will carry around the Wasatch-Front-based cultural baggage upon which many of your admonitions are based.
    Other than that, much of your counsel could apply to missionaries serving anywhere in the world. Well done!

    • Gina Colvin

      My world for the last week has been small. I’ve been in Orem – it does weird things to your perspective on Mormonism. Fair cop!

      • dr44

        I know exactly what you mean – I lived in Provo and American Fork for eight years! (And loved it, by the way).

  • Bot

    While I agree that missionaries should not get into political topics. The Church’s view on agency and freedom comport more closely with Mitt Romney’s views than Barack Obama’s.
    This is particularly germane with the Fast and Furious, Benghazi, IRS, AP, James Rosen scandals, which show the underbelly of Chicago-style intimidation. Why even Petraeus’ peccadillos were surfaced from the PRISM database which numerous government officials said would NEVER be used against U.S. citizens not involved in terrorism. We cannot trust the progressives in our government.

    • Gina Colvin

      Whether or not Romney’s politics was Mormon politics is not the point of the post. Missionaries need to be able to deal with people across a wide political spectrum and understand the contexts behind those political preferences.

  • kiwiinamerica

    Excellent Gina – I especially like the rugby bit. I tell Americans that rugby is the state religion of New Zealand!

    Whilst its true that Obama attracted far more support from centre-right leaning New Zealanders than was the case in the US and also true that this trend would be reflected in the NZ LDS voting population – I would venture to say that Romney still enjoyed majority LDS support in NZ, just by nowhere near the margins he enjoyed with this demograph in the US.

    • Gina Colvin

      I guess that’s something that we could only gauge anecdotally. I know in my ward that it seemed to be a majority Obama support. However, I was really addressing missionaries dealing with non-LDS.

    • Imkiwi2

      I’d have to agree with you on that one, kiwiinamerica.

  • OregonDavid

    New Zealand? Yeah, it’s the approximate size and population of Oregon. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not the center of the universe as you believe. Without an air force or an army stronger than a boy scout troop they depend on the good graces of America to keep them from speaking Japanese, Chinese or Russian. Please don’t disparage America by thinking New Zealand is the end all, be all.

    • Gina Colvin

      Of course its the be all and end all! Its the centre of the universe. Its the best of the best, the most of the most, the epitome of everything that is good and true and right. You don’t need to compete with me for whose country is best cause NZ already won! That is all. (Check #2)

    • Raymond McIntyre

      The attitudes shown in the above post goes a good, long way in my opinion to explaining why the LDS church in NZ is considered by most NZers to have nothing to say to them or to their conditions.

      Frankly, if we want arrogance, we have enough home-grown varieties we can play with, we have no need to import American Exceptionalism and all it’s attendant wrongs, we have more than enough of our own.

      • Gina Colvin

        Nicely said Raymond! Very nicely said!

    • kiwiinamerica

      Gina’s post was about helping missionaries called to New Zealand to better adapt culturally – I served my mission in Australia (from NZ) and witnessed the same issues of lack of cultural understanding. The things she points to are real and they can be a barrier to a missionary’s success. I prospered in Australia because I was a kiwi and had been to Australia before and understood and respected the differences between Aus and NZ. Whilst Gina is definitely a proud kiwi, I read nothing that implied she felt NZ was the centre of the universe. Put downs like yours unfortunately are reflected in the arrogance of SOME (thankfully few) American missionaries serving abroad. If the object is to preach the gospel in a foreign land then it behooves the missionary called to that foreign land to understand its culture.

      • Imkiwi2

        Kia ora to that, Gina n OregonDavid! Honestly. I watch Judge Judy on the odd occasion when I want a bit of a laugh and a ‘you gotta be kidding me’ moment, and am quick to point out to whoever would listen, that the idiots she has to deal with are not a true representation of the rest of the American population, but having read the majority of the clearly American comments posted here, I think I’m changing my mind. Most of you ARE idiots! I agree totally with what OregonDavid has said. Listen & learn!! Ae marika!!!

  • kiwi57

    It is true that racism exists in New Zealand. It always has existed, everywhere, and those who imagine themselves free of it are usually fooling themselves.
    However, I doubt very much that “racism,” either historical or otherwise, really has very much of anything to do with the socioeconomic status of many Maori and Pasifika families.
    Unless we accept that a sense of racially based “entitlement,” wherein the “entitled” ones are somehow exempt from making an effort to get a good education, and yet should expect to have similar earning capability as those less-entitled who have made such an effort, qualifies as “racism.”
    But then again, it probably does.

  • mightythorton

    Very good points. Your comments can be applied to most countries (with slight changes on things like Rugby vs Soccer vs Footy, etc). These comments also apply to missionaries (or any foreign visitors) to any country. I get a laugh out of Aussies and Kiwis who think that just because you’re in California that they are going to see movie stars and pop singers.

    Also, these comments point out New Zealand’s (and most other country’s) lack of empathy with other cultures. It is worst when the other country is the US, but everyone likes to pick on anyone that isn’t them.

    Truth be known, everyone pays attention to the US; the fact that you know who ran in the last presidential election and no one, outside of Anzac, knows who was in New Zealand’s last election show this. I doubt many Aussies know who was in New Zealand’s last election either. New Zealand is not the center of the universe; the sooner New Zealanders accept that they are a little known country, the sooner they can stop expecting everyone to know everything about them and be a bit more accepting; foreign relations is a two way street.

    I’m sure Missionaries could right an equally eye opening view of how New Zealanders (or other foreigners) are really shooting themselves in the foot by finding cultural difference as an excuse to not learn about the gospel.

    Cheers Mate.

  • Soulphoenix

    I think this was more of an anti-Utah rant than anything. I’m not from Utah, either, and we’re joking all the time about “the promised land” of Utah and some of the quirkiness that exists there. “Is the Church still true in Utah?” “Is the Church MORE true in Utah?” Yeah, that sort of thing.

    I agree that EVERYONE needs to be more culturally sensitive when visiting or living in other places. I worked my butt off as a young missionary in Central America to understand the culture and learn the language as well as I possibly could. My son is now in Brazil doing the same thing. And we don’t live in a palace, we don’t have a bathroom for every bedroom, we don’t eat off silver plates, etc., ad nauseum.

    Finally, most people, including some Americans, misunderstand the idea of American Exceptionalism. It does NOT mean that Americans are somehow superior to other people in and of themselves. We ALL come from the same place, and we are all equal in God’s eyes. I hope most missionaries understand this – I know that all mission presidents (and most parents) teach it to them.

    The grand experiment in self-government in America 200+ years ago was certainly exceptional, and those basic principles need to be kept alive throughout the world, no matter the sacrifice required. They don’t come from America – they come from God. And by the way, much of anti-American sentiment doesn’t come from American arrogance (though American arrogance is certainly a factor). Nationalism (and its ugly intolerance) is alive and well THROUGHOUT the world.

    Thank you for your piece – it’s always interesting to see others’ perspectives.

    M.D. House
    Illinois, USA

  • carrot

    This is so, so, so, so true–and not just for New Zealand! Learn to separate the gospel and politics–they do not go hand in glove, and many good members outside the US may have opposite politics from you and feel that their political ideas are more in line with the gospel than yours. Leave your politics behind and focus on the gospel, and you’ll be okay.

    McMansions–so true! Most people (in the US as well) do NOT live in houses big enough to sport water fountains and home theaters.

    Large families providing your entire social network–yeah. A large, supportive family is a good thing. Socializing ONLY with people you are either related to or have known you since you were born makes it hard to be a missionary. Giving off the air that your big family is SO wonderful and shutting out anyone who isn’t in that group or exactly like you is…off-putting, to say the least. Even when you’re not in New Zealand.

    Perhaps it all starts in learning to reach out to people not quite exactly like you and finding the similarities you share despite being from different cultures. You don’t even have to wear a name tag to do that. :)

  • Christopher Jay Campbell

    When you are on a mission, you are a representative of Jesus Christ and His church, not the United States. You are there to teach the gospel, not your political views. I believe it is best, while on a mission, to avoid political discussions entirely. After all, both Harry Reid and Glenn Beck are faithful, tithe paying, temple worthy Latter-day Saints.

    I don’t know how it is in New Zealand, but I know in some countries there is a widespread suspicion that our missionaries are covertly working for the CIA. That is another reason to avoid politics.

    When I was on my mission in New England (many, many years ago), I learned that the definition of “Yank” depends on where you are from. If you are from outside the US, a Yank is somebody from the US. If you are in the US, a Yank is a northerner. If you are a northerner, a Yankee is somebody from New England. If you are from New England, a true Yankee comes from Maine. And if you come from Maine, real Yankees complain that you can’t get really sharp cheddar cheese for your apple pie any more.

  • coopersucks

    1. You’re ok with generalizing using “juicy speculation” from your friends during a three week trip to Orem Utah. Utah Mormons and American Mormons don’t all think alike, nor do we think we all are the norm and such, and everyone else is an oddity, regardless of what you saw or heard in your friend’s house in Orem Utah. Some Mormons, I’m sure even in Orem like to think they are better than other Mormons, much like some Kiwis consider themselves to be better than the folks on the North Shore. Ah, the tolerance and diversity police, demanding so much of others, giving so little in return.

    2. We got sense o’plenty of humor here in the states, but Americans will punish you for telling them what they need to take “cultural competence” classes before coming to your country, especially after reading how you spend three weeks here in Orem Utah, return to your own country, and make generalizing statements about us in our own country.

    3. Americans abroad are used being called many colorful things; Mormons in America and abroad are used to being called much worse. Yank is fine.

    4. It has to take a lot pride in “diversity” for New Zealanders to blame individual Americans visiting your country for Iraq/Afghanistan. If I have to give a Kiwi or anyone else the answer they want to hear in order for me to be considered intelligent, diverse or not complicit, why would I ever listen to them go on about diversity? By the way, Grandpa Joe is our vice president, he’s not a republican.

    5. In America it is generally considered ill mannered to go around asking people who they voted for. In America over half the country voted for Obama and we get it. Do New Zealanders feel the need to ask Americans who come to New Zealand who they voted for? If so, why? Why does anyone ask another who they voted for if not so they can hold it over their head and call them unintelligent, complicit, undiversified, etc?

    6. Don’t address Americans and American Mormons, or Orem Mormons through your visit to Orem Utah.

    7. Don’t fret that Americans don’t get rugby, it is growing fast here and once the Olympics showcases rugby it will grow even faster. In the next few years Kiwis will go from talking about how Americans “don’t get it” to “we should have kept it to ourselves!”
    8. Don’t assume that all Americans and all American Mormons, in Utah or otherwise are rich, and don’t know sacrifice.

    9. In the US, it is polite to “offer/insist on clearing the table and doing the dishes.”

    10. Understand that learning languages of the people you serve is always key, even for American Elders going to Nebraska to speak Spanish or Vietnamese.

    11. Everyone who is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, even in America, understands the social and cultural costs of discipleship. Don’t address Americans or American Mormons based upon your three week visit to Orem Utah. Matter of fact; don’t judge Orem Mormons by your three week visit to Orem or your fun filled night of “juicy speculation”.

    12. In America “brown people” aren’t just Maori or Polynesian, and our white people aren’t just British colonialists. Here in America, inequality is a huge political problem, but here, “brown people” who wish to belong to a certain political party are cast as a “sellout”, an “uncle tom”, an “Oreo”, “porch monkey”, “house slave”, etc…

    13. Are you kidding right now, are you saying American Mormons don’t know about how the church was started or that we are not aware of how American liberals and conservatives both religious and not have treated Mormons in the media since Mitt Romney ran for office the first time?

    14. Same as in America.

    15. The scriptures and the prophets tell us that Babylon will fall and to stand in holy places, in short, the world, including the US and New Zealand is “going to hell in a hen basket.” That’s a pretty big reason why we are called to preach the gospel, to seek out the righteous where ever they may be. We’re fully aware of what goes on here, even among people who consider themselves to be practicing Mormons. I don’t consider anyone who is a member of the church to be more trustworthy than someone who isn’t, and I hope New Zealanders don’t get scared and paralyzed that they don’t share their beliefs to friends or for fear of offending someone. Tolerance doesn’t mean anyone has to condone or accept anything they don’t agree with. Again, your “juicy speculation” with your friends speaks to the fact that their world is rather small, and to your equating said “juicy speculation” to all of Orem, all of Utah, and to all US Mormons is also rather small.

    16. The British got it from America.

    17. In America we have many accents.

    18. We say hell and damn at church. We say fanny (I say poop shooter) when referring to lady parts, jello salad is not a main side dish, and we all don’t just eat hamburgers and hotdogs.

    • Teresa Marshall Grey

      well said. :-)

  • Teresa Marshall Grey

    This is such a racist blog! What you have said is not what the majority of New Zealander’s thinks. Everyone knows that Americans are called Septic tanks for example, which is an endearing nickname we have for Americans. I hate rugby . There is a reason why Footy i.e. Soccer is called the Beautiful Game! Not all members preferred Obama either. Some of us disliked both of them.Hell & Damn are swear words you should just learn to speak proper English. Is Bathroom Humour a good thing?? seriously? Mormons are Christians. period! No matter what your twisted views maybe. Maori language.. well did this at primary school but really has no relevance for me as an Adult..I wont comment on the War in Iraq but I thank the US that i don’t speak Japanese or German! I think as New Zealander’s we are more Americanized than you think. I for one blame the Labour government of the mid 80′s for not been able to see any US Navy Ships or Warplanes.

    • Gina Colvin

      How on earth is this anything but a light hearted post on what might make an American missionary’s time in New Zealand a little more easy to work out. So YOU don’t like rugby – so what? Does that make it any less of an important sport to many, many New Zealanders? I’m afraid you have confused what was meant to be good humoured look at potential cultural confusions for the uninitiated with a positivist treatise on US/NZ relations. Seriously?

      • Teresa Marshall Grey

        yes, seriously! you have no idea how many people you have offended with this article, you may think its funny, obviously you do, but its not actually funny at all. You are walking a fine line in your faith. You say Christ is at the center of your beliefs. If he really were, you would be doing all you could to build up his kingdom on the earth and help Heavenly Fathers children return to live with him again. You have been doing the opposite.

        • Gina Colvin

          How many people were offended?

          • Teresa Marshall Grey

            dont think i could count them all.

          • Gina Colvin

            Of course you can’t count them, much less than I can the numbers of people who have uplifted and enjoyed what I have written. One persons harm is another’s balm. You can criticize me on a number of counts Michael, but YOU don’t get to judge my testimony of Christ – its not your right and its not your place – so don’t.

          • Teresa Marshall Grey

            i hope you read what i wrote after the 1st sentence.

      • Teresa Marshall Grey

        this comment from a previous poster is my thoughts exactly: “I think this was more of an anti-Utah rant than anything”

      • Teresa Marshall Grey

        i also want to clarify that the first comment above was written by my husband..Michael Grey, i think you may know his brother Alan.

        • Teresa Marshall Grey

          (i am not worried about us navy ships lol)

          • Gina Colvin

            Gee wizz! Tell Michael to get his own FB page so you don’t have to answer for his dodgy politics! LOL

  • Dutchie01

    Some or many of these points apply to European countries as well. Some of my (Dutch) relatives who visited England got negative comments from (non-LDS) locals because they were thought to come from the USA (having many US friends, their English has an American accent). So, if you really come from America, be prepared for worse! A well-known Dutch historian said (on Dutch television) “all Republicans are crazy”, and I think many people are inclined to believe what he says. So, whether you intend to discuss politics or not, be prepared for comments on Romney or on Republicans in general (and maybe on Democrats as well). Many people in Europe think mainly “the Americans” are to blame for the Iraq war. Both members and non-members expect the missionaries to eat whatever is prepared for them, and many expect the missionaries (at least male missionaries) to eat lots of it. In many West-European countries, pre-marital cohabitation is the norm and many people think gay marriage should be accepted. In France, you may be considered ‘not quite normal’ if you don’t drink wine – the same goes for not drinking coffee in the Netherlands, or not drinking tea in Great-Britain. Most countries are multi-cultural, and you will meet people who speek neither English, nor the language that you learnt at the MTC. Or you learnt a certain country’s language and then you will discover that you don’t understand some people because of their regional accent. Non-members may be interested in having a conversation with you not because you preach the gospel but because you come from another continent. At the positive side: in many places, members will love you just because you are missionaries!

  • Jetaime manu

    It must be where you live in NZ that some of these apply.

    I always getting asked if I am from Canada..

    I have found living here that, Kiwis don’t like change….

    that can be really hard for missionaries, when the people don’t want to change their lives, even for the better.

    They are also very laid back. When you are used to thing happening all the time, and things getting done very quickly, that it is is hard to have patience.

    I see more of the Polynesian missionaries having problems than any Americans.

    Australia and New Zealand are two different countries, do not make the mistake of thinking they are the same. They have different accents, do not get them mixed up.

    If you learn this you will be fine.

  • Imkiwi2

    Our whanau loved your post, Gina. Didn’t agree with everything, mind you, but understood where you were coming from. Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts, now go out and enjoy that ‘too hot’ but nice weather. Btw, it aint too bad in Aux right now. Be well!

  • JohnH2

    “juicy speculation”

    Why are you listening to anecdotal speculation and more importantly, why are you passing it on?

    I would need to see the statistics; More Missionaries leads directly to a greater numerical number of missionaries coming home for a very wide variety of reasons many of which have absolutely nothing to do with “finding the work difficult” or anything of the sort. More missionaries numerically coming home leads to a greater number of people aware of missionaries who have come home. Neither of those two facts say anything about the trend of missionaries coming home or the percentage coming home early, just that there are more missionaries, therefore more numerically coming home early, therefore possibly greater awareness leading to gossip.

    This gossip is utterly unhelpful as it casts blame upon those young men and women who despite their best efforts are forced for a wide variety of reasons to not be able to complete their missions. This gossip needs to stop. Just take half a second to think what your passing on this gossip would do to a young man or woman that came home for reasons of, say, unmanaged depression: what an utterly brilliant idea to heap guilt and calling them weak or spoiled (as you so very clearly imply here) upon someone already facing severe emotional problems and, in many cases I know, their own feelings of failure for something that is entirely out of their control! Whatever the reason a elder or sister comes home early for they need our love and support. For many of them it may actually have been easier emotionally to stay on their mission than come home early, but circumstances dictate otherwise and forcing other elders and sisters to spend all their effort and time in supporting a struggling, sick, disturbed elder or sister is not fair to anyone.

  • Nathan275

    As a NZer living in NZ, I enjoyed reading the article for its value as a viewpoint of where we’re at as a country/ society… I hadn’t thought of things in quite the same way, but found myself smiling at the stereotypes and characterisations of NZ and US types. In short, I found when I served in Hawaii that I had to alter preconceived notions of my experiences in the church and in life. My son found the same when he served in Australia recently… In short, it comes down to loving the people you serve by getting to really know them. Come to NZ when you are called- we welcome you with open arms. As we get to know you, and you us, its amazing how well we get along when get to know each other person to person.. I daresay it is the same for any missionary going anywhere in the world! We’re all different and we all have heaps to learn from each other- isn’t that what makes life so interesting and fun? Nau mai, haere mai. PS, it really does help to know rugby!!!

  • E.M.Sol

    Gina, your article is an interesting read; I would love to visit New Zealand some day; it’s beauty is great in photographs and on videos that I have enjoyed watching.

    After reading your post, though, I wonder: what is this “trend” you are alluding to? Are LDS missionaries “quitting” their New Zealand missions in greater numbers than in any other missions? What numbers do you have to support your claim?

    Almost four decades ago when I served my full time mission from a small European country to another European country, I knew of two elders who went home early; the first one is still active in church, and I do not know why he went home – it does not matter to me. The second one went home because his mom was suddenly dying. I can’t blame him for wanting to see his mom. He may have finished his mission later – I don’t know.

    I doubt that a New Zealand mission is any harder than many other missions, but you do make a great point: it behooves every missionary to get to know local customs and respect them, whether they understand those customs or not.

    Having grown up in Europe, and having now lived in several places within the United States since 1981 with two of those years in Utah, (finally settled in the northwestern part of the U.S.), I can assure you and others in New Zealand that most of our missionaries do not come from this ideological family where “their entire social life revolves around their big families” – this seems like an assumption, rather than a fact. Utah LDS families have as many ups and downs and face as many challenges raising their kids as do other LDS families outside of Utah, be they large or small. An elder or a sister coming from Utah to New Zealand (or anywhere else), would most likely not be as naive as you imply – there is indeed a large non LDS population in Utah. Many Utah Mormons (and Mormons elsewhere) are “Mormons of record only,” thus inactive and not interested in the church at all – and their life choices often reflect that. There is also a large population of other religions living in the midst of Latter-day Saints in Utah. Growing up in Utah is being exposed to as many differing views, temptations and non LDS lifestyles as almost anywhere else. I doubt that being raised in “large families” in Utah would cause any particular “problems” or difficulties adjusting to missionary life while serving a New Zealand mission.

    Thus, why or even whether, there is a “trend” of missionaries supposedly giving up on their New Zealand missions, remains unclear; with as many missionaries as we currently have – and we know the numbers are increasing dramatically – it could be a church wide “trend” – who knows? Or perhaps it is because New Zealanders are exceptionally judgmental and intolerant…? …which is what you kind of imply.

  • Auckland Blue

    Just in case anyone called on a mission to New Zealand actually reads this blog, I thought it might be useful to add some thoughts from another Kiwi Mormon (there’s actually more than one of us, and funnily enough, we all have different opinions). Much that is in this post is clearly good common sense: offer to do the dishes, learn something of the history and culture of the place in which you are serving, understand that “we’re not in Kansas anymore Toto”. There were a few issues that could use some clarification, though:

    Kiwi Mormon notes that New Zealand is diverse. She then offers a cheap shot by adding the exception of the North Shore (where the church office building is located). Now Kiwi Mormon is right to a degree. If you get the chance to serve in Auckland, you’ll notice more white faces on the North Shore than in Otara, for example. If the ratio of white faces is still not to your satisfaction, however, you could try moving to another big city like … let’s say Christchurch. Yes, that’s right, Christchurch (the home of Kiwi Mormon) just happens to be one of the whitest cities in New Zealand. If you’re still not happy, you could try some smaller towns in Northern Otago. For some strange reason, things seem to get whiter the further south you go. Funnily enough, the church also gets smaller the further south you go. Kiwi Mormon has taken theories of brown spirituality off the table, so I’m not sure if we’re allowed to make any inferences about the spiritual nature of South Island pakeha.

    Kiwi Mormon notes that some New Zealanders will hold you personally responsible for the Iraq War and the Invasion of Afghanistan. Taking this a step further, if you have German ancestry, you may also be blamed for the holocaust. You might also need to consider what role your ancestors played in the American Civil War. In short, you should take a very long, hard look in the mirror. Of course, just like many countries in the world, if you don’t talk politics (as missionaries are encouraged not to), most people will not talk politics with you. If someone insists on pinning the Iraq war on you despite your best intentions to move the conversation topic on, walk away. They’re probably more interested in converting you.

    Rugby is arguably the most popular sport in New Zealand. Many other sports are popular, too. If you know some rugby it could open some doors for you (it might be compared to being able to talk baseball, basketball, or American football in the States). Of course, not everyone in New Zealand likes rugby or wants to talk about it. Moderation is advised.

    As Kiwi Mormon mentions, Maori and New Zealand sign-language, along with English, are official languages in New Zealand. While English is spoken by the majority of New Zealanders, the other two languages will definitely open some doors for you (though others will have no idea what you’re saying or why you’re moving your hands around so much). Chinese, Korean, Samoan, and Tongan could also open doors for you (plus many other languages). Unless you’re a language learning machine, I wouldn’t recommend trying to learn
    all of these languages at once. Again, prudence is advised.

    Whatever the demerits of Kiwi Mormon’s list, it does have at least one merit. If you happen to find yourself in Christchurch and are looking for a referral from Sister Kiwi Mormon, the list she offers could be invaluable. By the time you’ve apologised in Maori for your personal role in the Iraq War, you might just about have her on your side. There are no guarantees though. I suspect she still may have a few more hoops for you to jump through. But don’t be discouraged. The Lord never promised it would be easy. He only promised it would be worth it. (Or
    maybe He promised no such thing but we like to attribute the quote to Him
    anyway). At any rate, enjoy your mission to New Zealand and go the Blues (I
    would support the Crusaders, but they’re not culturally diverse enough for my

    • Gina Colvin

      That would be awesome! An apology for the Iraq war – in Maori. Epic!

  • April.P

    wow, thanks Gina, now every American hates our guts. As a kiwi, and a mormon, who lives in NZ I just want the entire world to know this article does not represent the entire NZ mormon population, nor the non-member population. Its just ONE kiwi who has beef with the US and has discovered that the internet reaches the whole world. You may have a few sheep who will nod and baa while they read your article, but in NZ, I eat sheep with mint sauce. So, why do I think your article is such a flop? You didn’t research properly, you made comments that were wrong and just plain rude. To say that maori and polynesians aren’t inherently spiritual is false! I thought you would know, being LDS, that EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING is inherently spiritual. We were spirits before we had body’s. I’m Maori, I was taught about the old tohunga Potangaroa, King Tawhiao and others who told their people that the true church would come from the east/rising sun, missionaries would come in pairs and they would learn the language, live talk and eat with the people. Hmm, sound familiar? Thats because Maori already had organised system of religion before white man came, which is why the gospel was so readily accepted by many of the indigenous people. And we aren’t unlike our fellow polynesians. My advice, learn about our history and culture, might learn something. As for missionaries going home early, I’ve known only of 1 American and about half a dozen Aucklanders, so we can’t trump our own little horn.
    I’d like to give my advice to any new or recently called missionary who is coming to NZ, don’t listen to Gina, whose opinions are her own, not the rest of NZ. I have American missionaries to thank for why I am a Latter day saint, if it were not for them my grandparents would not have joined the church. And instead of reading internet garb, read the Book of Mormon, learn from Ammon, one of the greatest missionaries of all. Relate to the people and you’ll be fine. Lean on the Lord, don’t find Gina who will try and give you an exam, thats lame, just remember the wiling heart is your qualification. And for any missionary, or just anybody for that matter, wherever you are where ever you go, just have manners and the spirit. You’ll be all good.

    • Gina Colvin

      Thanks for setting the record straight e hoa! Where would blogs be without such insightful correction as yours? You rock!

  • April.P

    oooh ouch took my post down, hit a nerve ay? guess you were right about 1 thing, raw and straight shooting hehe, win.

    • Gina Colvin

      What the heck?

  • Darren

    As a missionary I would not take personally anyone accusing me of the War in Iraq and simply not engage in politics. As a civilian observer, anyone who desired to talks politics to me,, I’ll be game. I’d openly owner if New Zealand ever were controlled by a dictator who used chemical weapons on its own civilians and openly promoted jihadists how much aid and comfort New Zealanders would find from Australia? I’d also point out how the very same imperialistic which founded the original US colonies and lead to the freest nation in the world also founded New Zealand and that said imperialism is a very effective tool to prevent a Huessein from taking over the US or New Zealand.

    Gina’s advice on learning Rugby is very good but I would not say vital. I served in Brazil where soccer rules the day in sports (by far) and I happened to have played soccer for years in my youth so I knew the game and could talk it but frankly it made no difference as to my overall missionary effectiveness. I’d say a missionary’s zeal and overall attitude to serve others will reflect in a missionary’s effectiveness in New Zealand. (Hey, “zeal” “Zeal”and. Never connected the two before)

    Learning more than one language is good but frankly I think missionaries already do this according to the area they serve. I’ve known server all missionaries who served in the Philipines and they all said they learned native dialects alongside their official mission language and that the MTC fully prepared the. To expect to do as much. I cannot imagine going to New Zealand being any different.

    I guess overall future missionaries need not worry about politics and being exposed to cultures other than their own so much as their desire to love and serve The Lord and others.

  • fejoas


    Kiwi pakeha mormon here living in Utah. No jello here in Southern Utah. It would melt. Loved your post. All of it. Learned a lot as I’ve been gone from home too long. I forwarded the post to a senior couple who just got back from NZ mission in Gizzy and they said every bit was true and they were forwarding it on to several couples who are on their way down.

    As for racism in NZ, growing up in Rotorua we always looked to the Maori as special people, better than us pakehas, as they could help themselves to oysters off the beach and we could not. And we always were in awe with the Maori culture and talent: hongis, hangis, wood carvings, green stone, the canoes in the War Memorial Museum and the incredible music and dance. Now the influx of Islanders and Asians has happened since I left NZ so I feel out of touch with that.

    Most Americans do not realize that Kiwis have fought and died along side them in WW I, WW II, Vietnam, Korea, both Gulf Wars and Afghanistan. The US press rarely mentions that. Yes America was responsible for leading off in Gulf War I but only because Kuwait and Saudi Arabia begged for help and 40 other nations (who also helped in some way) agreed that Saddam had to be stopped.

    Yes, you have an attitude but I love it. Your perspectives are your own and I respect that.

    Do what you feel in your heart to be right- for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Eleanor Roosevelt