Elder Quentin L. Cook recently visited Australia and New Zealand — nations in the Church's Pacific Area rich with history and a growing diverse Church membership. In addition, he walked along the streets of Christchurch, New Zealand, 500 days after a devastating earthquake changed the landscape of the city.
"The Pacific Area has become a real stronghold for the Church," said Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Traveling with Elder Tad R. Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy and Bishop Keith B. McMullin of the Presiding Bishopric, Elder Cook visited Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and Christchurch and Auckland, New Zealand, from Jan. 13 through Jan. 22. They addressed members and missionaries and met with government and community leaders.
The Brethren were joined on their travels by their wives: Sister Mary Cook, Sister Kathryn Callister and Sister Carolyn McMullin, and by members of the Pacific Area Presidency: Elder James J. Hamula, Elder Kevin W. Pearson and Elder F. Michael Watson of the Seventy and their wives: Sister Joyce Hamula, Sister June Pearson and Sister Jolene Watson.
For Elder Cook the trip was a homecoming of sorts; he lived in New Zealand and served as president of the Church's Pacific Area from 1998 to 2001; Elder Callister also served as president of the Pacific Area. Elder Cook said he holds a special place in his heart for the people and the lands in that area of the world. "It was a homecoming for us," he said. "We have warm relationships with those people."
Bishop McMullin said he was amazed by the "strength of the Church today" in Australia and New Zealand, where maturity and leadership are "very evident."
While in Sydney, the Brethren addressed missionaries from the Australia Sydney Mission, spoke at stake meetings, and addressed young single adults and a multi-stake youth meeting. In addition, Elder Cook met with local government leaders and thanked them for running for office and for their efforts to strengthen and protect the family.
One thing that stood out to him is the recent growth of the Church in Australia's most populous city. "It is interesting to see how much it is growing there," he said.
Part of that growth has come from various ethnic groups in the region, he explained.
Of particular note, added Elder Callister, is the growing number of Asian members of the Church in the city, where the Church does have Chinese-speaking missionaries. Those members are also showing enormous capacity and participating in Church leadership, he added. "There is a unity with the diversity that exists," he said.
After leaving Sydney, Australia, the Church leaders visited Christchurch, New Zealand — the nation's second-largest city that, in the past two years, has been struck by devastating earthquakes. A quake with a magnitude of 7.1 struck Sept. 4, 2010; a 6.3-magnitude quake struck Feb. 22, 2011. Christchurch still experiences daily aftershocks. Elder Cook delivered a simple message to the disaster victims: "The members of the Church care about you and pray for you."
Because they stand on unstable land, thousands of homes and one Latter-day Saint meetinghouse have been "permanently red-tagged" and will not be rebuilt.
Still, "with all these earthquakes only 3-to-5 percent of the membership have left," said Elder Callister. "They are staying and making the most of a very difficult situation."
Because of the service of the Latter-day Saints in the wake of the disaster and the aid from the Church, Elder Cook said the Church leaders were greeted "with incredible warmth" by government leaders. They visited with four members of Parliament and one former member of Parliament at the City Center and Mayor Bob Parker of Christchurch.
The Church leaders also had the opportunity to meet with Andrew Peter Cammock and Elizabeth Cammock; she was on the sixth floor of a building that collapsed in the disaster. More than 100 people perished on the five floors below her.
The Brethren were also impressed with the leadership and members in the city. "We saw Relief Society presidents and bishops who stood shoulder to shoulder and fought through a crisis," Bishop McMullin said, noting that it is important for the Church to respond to disasters with aid. However, he added. "The real strength in those situations is when you see the local saints step forward."
After leaving Christchurch, the Church leaders visited Auckland, New Zealand, where they conducted a review of the Pacific Area and participated in a prospective missionary meetings — where they addressed hundreds of prospective missionaries between 16 and 25 years old. Elder Callister called the meetings remarkable. The prospective missionaries were thrilled to learn of the responsibility and privilege of missionary service, he said.
Elder Cook completed his travels in Melbourne, Australia — also an area of great Church maturity and recent growth. In Melbourne the group participated in leadership training and in a prospective missionary meeting.
"We were pleased with the real growth in terms of people receiving ordinances and people living covenants," Elder Cook said.