On Sunday, 12 March 2017, Elder S. Gifford Nielsen of the Seventy and a member of the Pacific Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with Elder Keith P. Walker, also of the Seventy, announced changes in the stake presidency of the Whangarei New Zealand Stake (a group of several congregations).
It was announced that Ronald K. Reti would succeed Anthony O. Poutu as president of the stake with H. Brandt Shortland as his first counselor and Ian M. Anderson as his second counselor.
Speaking of the change in local leadership for the Church, Elder Nielsen said, “We are built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. This is not our work; it is His.”
Elder Nielsen went on to speak of the importance of Church leadership being aligned.
“President Thomas S. Monson and the First Presidency are aligned with Heavenly Father and the Saviour; the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Seventy are aligned with them; and the alignment must continue down through the entire organization of the Church, including the Whangarei Stake,” Elder Nielsen said.
Elder Walker added, “The Lord made it clear that the person He would have serve as stake president is President Reti. These three men (President Reti and his two counselors) were called of God by revelation through a process established by God.”
Saturday evening Elder Walker told the story of his conversion as a 22 year-old to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At the time of his baptism his wife told him that “as (he) came out of the water there was a change in (his) countenance.”
Soon after, he decided that in order to better keep the Sabbath as a holy day he would give up playing and practicing soccer on Sundays, ending his possible career as a professional.
Elder Walker told conference attendees, “Our Heavenly Father is in the details of our lives. He knows us intimately. He knows our trials. He knows our strengths. He wants us to be successful and return and live with Him.”
In President Poutu’s final remarks as president of the stake, he told those in attendance, “Heavenly Father’s love for you is real. The Saviour has already done His part. He has atoned for our sins. Now we must do our part.”
He also offered counsel to the new stake president: “You’ll be filled with gratitude for the changes you will see in people’s lives.”
In the Saturday evening meeting of the conference Elder Nielsen told those gathered, “I bring the love of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve (Apostles).”
He explained that the Lord is hastening the work of salvation and offered as evidence the fact that lowering from 19 to 18 the age of young men and from 21 to 19 the age of young women who may serve a Church mission has resulted in there now being 72,000 full-time missionaries serving throughout the world.
Elder Nielsen proclaimed: “We are sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father. We have purpose and we have direction. The gospel will always give us more than we can even imagine.”
Referring to the parable of the good Samaritan, Elder Nielsen said, “We open our minds, we open our hearts, we open our ears and we go to and find someone that needs us. That is how we build this stake.”
Recalling a meeting where a woman asked a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles if there was hope for her, Elder Nielsen taught that through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ there is hope for everyone. “This is a gospel of joy. This is a gospel of happiness. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“He is the living Saviour of the world,” Elder Nielsen said. “The tomb is empty. He lives. He is at the head of this Church.”
Elder Walker told the congregation that the process of choosing a new stake president is the same process Samuel used in choosing David as the King of Israel.
“It is a process of revelation," Elder Walker said. "This is the Lord’s kingdom on the Earth today. Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world, the Saviour of all mankind.”
President Poutu had served as president of the Whangarei Stake, and Eldon L. Whitaker had served as his counselor, for over eight years. His successor, President Reti, had served as one of his counselors for the past three years.
Acknowledging that he “has big shoes to fill," President Reti expressed his love for President Poutu.
He humbly quoted a well-loved Church hymn saying, “I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me.” He also expressed his love for his Heavenly Father.
Several government officials and representatives of other faiths attended the conference.
Government officials included Members of Parliament Kelvin Davis; Dr. Shane Reti; Pita Paraone and his wife, Elva.
Mayor of Whangarei, Sheryl Mai, and Councillor Sue Glenn also attended.
Caption: Elder S. Gifford Nielsen (right) visits with interfaith representatives.