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Two Latter-day Saint Men Remembered After Tragic Accident

In this touching tribute, New Zealand film-maker Tara Roshan Nandu-Moke remembers Timothy Amai, 20 and Wiremu Gin, 38, who died in a tragic car accident on Friday 3 February 2017.

Two men lost their lives on Friday February 3rd, 2017 in a tragic car accident on SH1 at Karapiro, south of the New Zealand city of Hamilton. 

Recently returned missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Timothy Amai, 20 and Wiremu Gin, 38 were travelling to Wellington when the collision occurred.

The Latter-day Saint and wider community are still reacting to the loss as tributes from friends and family around the Pacific pour in on social media.

 

I was asked to write a piece for Pacific Mormon Newsroom so I’m sitting at my computer looking at a photo I took of young Tim more than two years ago, finding it hard to type and see the screen through tears.

This story begins with a phone call.

Casting 101

You see, I’m a film director and a little over two years ago, was asked to produce a short film for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called the LDS Church or the Mormons) that would give people who aren’t members of the Church an insight into why young LDS men and women go out and serve as missionaries around the world when they turn 18 and 19 respectively.

Calling around my friends who are bishops or leaders of local LDS congregations, Tim’s name kept coming up as the ideal subject. Walking into their church meeting one Sunday, a tall, handsome young man is pointed out to me and I greet him with a firm handshake which he immediately reciprocates with a warm smile.

Upon meeting Tim you can’t help but be impressed by his genuine humility and charm. Appraised beforehand of my intentions Tim graciously agrees to be the subject of the film but finds it hard to believe that he would be singled out of what he assures me were many other young men who would be better candidates than him. His reluctance immediately confirms to me that he is “the one."

Quickly touching base with his Dad, “Koro” who I already know, well, everybody knows Koro, and asking if he and his family would also be happy to participate in the film, his enthusiasm is infectious, excited for his son but also an opportunity to be an example for his church which it is obvious he so devoutly believes in. A proud but equally humble father. We make arrangements to interview him and his wife Angela who had just recently delivered the family’s latest addition, their baby son Tobi.

Tell me about this kid

Later that week we set up our lights and cameras in Bishop Taukamo’s office, I need to get to know about this kid to find an angle to tell a compelling story. My film director programming kicks in. Bishop gives me the same story as his youth leaders, friends and home teacher, Sam Hood give me. That Tim is really something special, his quiet humility and modesty, his work ethic and love of others, that he’s one of those annoying people who never gets mad or says anything amiss about anyone. I am sceptical but intrigued. Can someone be that good?

Lights, camera, action!

Later that week we set up to film at the Hamilton Lake (Rotoroa) and interview one of his friends and his teacher from Hillcrest High School, Ryan Cox, who we learn is also his rugby coach, mentor and friend. I ask Ryan what were his first thoughts when Tim told him he was giving up a budding rugby career opportunity to serve as a missionary.

“To start with I thought he was mad,” he responded, smiling at the camera. “It’s just crazy, he’s probably one of the best rugby players I’ve ever seen at that age." 

Fellow co-captain of the 1st XV, Neil Rudman, is also supportive of his friend even without fully understanding the move.

While we are packing up they throw the ball around and we sneak in some filming. A young father himself, Ryan is the type of teacher you can only hope that your children get to meet and befriend. Can’t help but thinking he’d probably be a great Mormon bishop if he joined the Church.

We show up with our crew at Tim’s house, I walk in and immediately feel at home, as the house looks like a tornado has swept thru it minutes before. I have five kids and our house is a bombsite 98% of the time. But Tim is everything I wasn’t at that age, I was useless at sports, not even half as good looking, naughty, selfish, always in trouble, only went to school to eat my lunch, play guitar, fail maths, write stories and make films in English and I had no intention of going on a mission, (thankfully I had an epiphany and that all changed). But now standing in a pile of laundry on his living room floor, finally I can relate to this kid.

Tim pops down into his room to get changed into a shirt and tie for his interview. Angela walks out to greet us, with Tobi their gorgeous new baby son. I see he has Down Syndrome like my nephew Tipene, and he is cheek bitingly cute. It’s obvious that Angela has had little sleep as she apologises profusely for the state of the house, I reassure her that 1. It’s better than the state of my house and 2. I have had fractionally more sleep than her nursing our new-born son Taran the night before so we are both on the same bus. I meet his lovely younger sisters that look like clones of him especially Elyse, they are just as gracious as him, introducing themselves and shaking hands shyly. As a parent of rambunctious children, I can immediately tell that these children have been raised well. Tim picks up his restless baby brother whispering in the most kind and gentle tones, baby settles at the sound of his voice (I need to learn that trick), while his mother has a short but much needed rest.

One to One

We drive out to the Visitors' Centre at the Hamilton NZ Temple complex. This is the first chance to connect with him one to one. Having heard all about him in the days previous, within minutes I can clearly see that he is everything that everyone has said he was. Immediately I’m disarmed as he opens up and shares his hopes and dreams with me, his love for his family, his concern for his siblings who are struggling with the Church, his nonchalant attitude toward giving up his exciting rugby opportunities for something he believes is far more important.

Changing from being a film director to a curious father trying to figure out how I can raise my boys to be like this. We arrive at the Visitors' Centre that stages the entrance to the Temple. This facility is open to the thousands of curious visitors and general public that turn up every year, giving them a welcoming space to observe and enjoy this beautiful building that is one of Hamilton’s most well-known landmarks.

Setting up our cameras and lights in one of the display rooms, like a possum in headlights Tim is visibly nervous once the cameras start rolling. I try to get him talking about anything to settle his nerves, as he tells about the story of opening his mission call to Fiji, his eyes light up and the excitement takes over, he opens up on camera. I’m in.

Telling his story, our crew goes silent, we stop a couple of times as tears flow. After staging hundreds of interviews in my career, I know instinctively that he isn’t telling me what I want to hear or some rote lines taught to him as a child. Here is a young man that truly believes that sacrificing everything in his life for two years to teach and serve the people of Fiji is what God wants him to do.

After the interview, we stroll around the peaceful temple grounds and I get some shots of him enjoying the beautiful vista. The Temple is the pinnacle of Mormon belief that marriage and family bonds need not end at “death do you part” but can continue after this life into eternity, that families can be together forever. Seeing the closeness of his family I realise that this belief is alive and real for him and a driving force in his convictions to serve an honourable mission for the Church and spread this Christ-centred message. We sit down under a tree to have a lunch break and annoyingly he is one of these Polynesian kids who is good at everything and starts playing his guitar and singing.

It takes a village to raise a child

Weeks later a text from Bishop Taukamo, “Are you coming to Tim’s setting apart tonight?” I wouldn’t miss it. We convene back at the Visitors' Centre for the ceremony wherein Tim begins his new life and position in the Church as an elder and his full-time mission officially begins. It’s always impressed me that the only people in the Church to receive this respected title are usually a select few older gentlemen who serve in the leadership ranks of the Church and the 18-year-old boys to whom are entrusted the responsibility to teach the world the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The cars line the street as we arrive. More than 150 people in attendance for this "private family moment," I marvel at the shapes, sizes, ages and cultures who turn up to support their friend, son and brother, all people whose lives have been touched by him in his short 18 years.

Packed house, less than standing room only, crouching in a corner at the front of the room with my camera as the presiding church leader, Tom Sutcliffe, as well as Tim’s father and other church leaders stand around him, and lay their hands on his head and through prayer pronounce blessings upon him as Jesus did when he charged his disciples to go forth and preach to all nations.

The room is silent, Tim’s sister sits in the front row her arms dressed with intricate artistic tattoos, she weeps in what I can only imagine is pride for her little brother being honoured by so many. Everyone there can feel it. The blessing concludes, Tim systematically makes his way through the group, shakes everyone’s hands and hugs his Dad awkwardly trying to maintain an air of being cool in front of his friends whilst hurriedly wiping his tears from view. I chuckle to myself, glad that I managed to get that funny exchange on camera.

As gracious as he is, I observe him visit with every person in attendance and genuinely thank them for coming along, humbled by the very public showing of support. Elder Hawkins, the director of the Visitors Centre, remarks to me that it’s the biggest turn out for something like this he’s ever hosted.

As a fun tradition, friends drape his neck with ties for him to use on his mission and to remember them by. In minutes there is a mountain of neckties weighing him down, underneath the stack, he shakes hands and poses for photos, as a sign of respect no kisses or hugs for him as everyone now addresses him by his new title “Elder Amai." I can tell it feels weird to him.

Our sound engineer motions to me that the cameras are set up and ready and we wrangle his Mum and Dad into a room away from the bustle and excitement for a quick interview. At this point I am no longer a film director but a young father eager to learn how these parents raised such an amazing kid and I’m desperate to know how I can do the same.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” Angela so intelligently remarks; and Koro jokes, “Actually, I think it’s a nation for Tim." These wonderful parents humbly deflect any credit for the achievements of their son, rather crediting the love and guidance of his church leaders and the positive peer pressure of his close friends and examples of the many mentors in his life.

"Seminary is the key,” Koro remarks. “It’s like a four-year degree,” referring to the four years of early morning scripture study LDS children are encouraged to participate in whilst at high school. Thinking of the older children of my friends who also did seminary I deduce the magic formula of this secret sauce. A lightbulb lights up in my mind realising the profundity of Angela’s statement. The LDS Church is the embodiment of the village raising the child, which has influenced and helped to mould Tim into the amazing young man he had become, a central part of the Church’s day to day mission is to create that environment for not only young people to grow and thrive but anyone from anywhere at any age. Tim is the epitome of everything the Church stands for - he is the best of all of us.

I shake his hand, take off the tie from around my neck and place it around his. Good luck Elder.

Return with honour

Fast forward two years I get a Facebook message from Koro that Tim is headed home. Chantelle, my wife, gives me a nudge, “You should do a follow up story.” I pontificate “Great idea honey, I’m glad I thought of it.” She rolls her eyes. Facebook friend request to Tim accepted! and I make a mental note to schedule a film shoot for February. I look though Koro’s Facebook to get caught up on the photo/visual diary of Tim’s time serving as a missionary in Fiji. It’s obvious he was well loved and accepted as a son of Fiji. At a glance I see forty thousand views on his video message that we produced two years ago. That’s a lot of lives touched.

Which brings us to today. I get a message from Richard Hunter who leads LDS Church public affairs in the Pacific area asking if I’ll write a piece in respect to Tim.

At his ward (parish), in Hamilton East today, a full house as the “village” that helped raise this child pulls together to mourn the loss of their son and show love and support for the Amai family. It’s quieter than usual, the air feels heavy and throughout the meeting tears flow freely in the congregation as thoughts of Tim come and go. Time to process the grief will be needed by all as they try and imagine a world without Tim in it.

Ask anyone who knows Tim and they will tell you he was the embodiment of this song that young LDS children often sing, “I’m trying to be like Jesus, I’m following in His ways, I’m trying to love as He did in all that I do and say...love one another as Jesus loves you try to show kindness in all that you do, be gentle and loving in deed and in thought for these are the things Jesus taught “

So here I sit writing this piece, reflecting on this young man and his friend Wu, tears flowing, realising the impact that he has had on mine and many others' lives, looking through his Facebook page inundated with tributes from people from New Zealand and Fiji whose lives he had touched, by his friendship and kindness. He had a way of making you feel loved and important, no matter who you are. In hindsight I see a marked change in the way I treated my young sons from that experience with Tim and his family two years ago, this is the gift he gave me. Thank you Tim.

“Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never ever the same” (Flavia Weedn).

One of your close friends, Elder Oakley Taiapa, currently serving in Ogden Utah, writes this fitting tribute: “As the days gone by my love and testimony of this great plan God has for us has grown. Through this plan we will see you again, through this Atonement we will see you again. You will be missed Tim and I can't wait to see you again and I'll do everything I can to make sure I see you again.”

So may we all. See you later Tim.

Written by Tara Roshan Nandu-Moke

Tim’s video message can be viewed here on YouTube.

Wu (Wiremu) Gin

Taken from a message released by his family

Our beloved Son, Brother and Uncle, Wiremu Paati Gin (Wu) of Kaikohe, New Zealand, passed away on February 3rd 2017.

Wu was a light to all those who knew him, and was loved by all. He is one of 8 children born to William Gin and Rangimarie Newman, and is survived by his 2 brothers and 5 sisters but was a beloved son and brother to so many more. Wu had such a deep love and affection for his family, who were at the centre of his life. He was a caring uncle to his many nieces and nephews and a loving father to his fur-baby Hound, who passed with him,

He served a full time proselyting mission in the Cagayan De Oro Mission, Philippines, where he learnt several dialects, notably Cebuano, and developed a love for those he served. He maintained his language up until his passing. Wu had a firm belief in God’s plan for all his children, and served whole heartedly in all his callings. He had such a beautiful voice which he used to share the gospel.

He was with his nephew and friend Tim Amai, a recently returned full time missionary, when he passed, and both were called to the Spirit World to continue the Lord’s work. Wu leaves behind a wonderful legacy of love for his Saviour Jesus Christ and his Father in Heaven.

Families are forever. ‘til we meet again.

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.

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