Creatively responding to changes in society, missionaries in the New Zealand Auckland Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are finding new ways to use social media and technology to share gospel messages of hope and goodness, and connect with people in meaningful ways.
Sister Kainoa Hemi was a missionary in Nagoya, Japan for 12 months out of an 18-month mission. However, due to COVID-19, she and many other missionaries around the world were returned to their home countries.
After reuniting with her family in Hamilton, New Zealand, she then decided to finish her mission closer to home.
Sister Hemi and her missionary companion, Sister Aniva Grace, who was re-assigned locally following her original call to the USA, are now serving in three areas, including remotely in Avarua, Cook Islands, which is part of the Auckland mission.
Both women are Māori, so they participate and post videos on a Māori Facebook page in Te Reo. They are getting many likes, shares and comments.
“Because we are from New Zealand,” Sister Hemi says, “people know our iwi or family group, even our family members. We can now relate to people through language and culture. It has been amazing.”
For their first video they joined with other missionaries sharing a talent and introducing themselves.
In later videos they share their “pepeha,” a traditional Māori introduction that includes a reference to one’s mountain, river and other important details.
Sister Hemi says that “people can see who we really are and that we are from here and will relate to us.”
In other videos Sister Hemi speaks in Japanese and Sister Grace translates.
Their posts are shared on Facebook by the members of the Church in their area and they have been able to work together with the members in new ways to teach their friends.
The missionaries agree that using social media to connect with people is much more efficient than former methods.
“You can communicate faster and talk to more people online without spending a lot of time travelling,” says Sister Grace.
Elder Brigham Riwai-Couch served in the Urdaneta Philippines Mission then was reassigned to the New Zealand Auckland Mission, now serving in Kaikohe, Northland.
He and his missionary companion, Elder Ivan Lee, made their first video “short and sweet,” Elder Riwai-Couch explains.
“The main idea was energy, a happy vibe, introducing ourselves, what we are doing here, then introducing the purpose of missionaries, bringing the Spirit, then inviting them to share and like our video.”
Posted to Elder Riwaii-Couch’s missionary Facebook page, it had 2,000 views the first day, and two weeks later has over 10,000 views.
Comments and messages have come from many people, and they are having gospel-centred discussions with several individuals.
“It’s funny, people honk and wave at us all the time now,” Elder Riwai-Couch says.
“They recognize us everywhere because the members have shared our video on their Facebook pages. Even when we went to another city, a lady recognized us and bought us a massive bucket of food. We talked to her and found out she was [raised] a member of the Church. We invited her to church and involved the local missionaries.”
They plan on doing more videos.
Missionaries serving in their home countries are connecting through common language and culture as they use social media.
“It’s no coincidence we are being called to serve in our own countries,” Elder Riwai-Couch says.
He is from the South Island and is serving in a Northland, Māori speaking community.
He says that people are at first shocked then pleased when he speaks to them in Te Reo.
And, he says, because he knows and understands tikanga (Māori traditions), “We feel connected in a different way.”
The missionaries are finding that their creativity, energy and momentum are blessing people in their own homes, offering something beautiful and helpful. They are also helping Church members become more involved through social media sharing.
“Technology is another instrument to help accomplish the work of the Lord,” says Sister Hemi.
“The Lord’s work is continuing and hastening through its use. Sometimes it is hard to know what to do, and how to do it, but we are still missionaries and doing what we were called to do.”