By Jane Eyre
Visitors to Temple View, Hamilton in New Zealand might think they are seeing double, but locals know 91-year-old identical twins Jacqueline Dallas and Gillian McLean as long-term residents and Church stalwarts. The sisters are next-door neighbours, both attend the Hamilton Maynard Ward, and – as is common with identical twins – they’ve shared many other parallel experiences in their lives.
Their conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1970s, not long after their mother was baptised, is one example. “[Mum] joined after an extraordinary encounter with Sister Weketia Elkington in Nelson Hospital, where she’d gone to visit a friend,” Gillian recounts.
“Despite being a stranger, she felt strongly drawn to speak with Weketia [who was laying] in her hospital bed. They developed a strong friendship; Sister Elkington gave Mum a Book of Mormon and she joined.” With strong encouragement from their mother, Jacqueline was baptised next, and three years later, Gillian followed.
In other life parallels, neither of their husbands joined the Church, but both sisters had big families, several sets of twins in their progeny, and many children who accepted the gospel.
All six of Jacqueline’s children, including her twin sons, also reside in Hamilton. She enjoys regular catch ups with them, her 24 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren, which feature another set of twin boys. It is a blessing foretold by a patriarch’s counsel, received in the 1980s, to move from Christchurch to Hamilton. “There all your family will follow you,” he prophesied.
Five of Jacqueline’s children joined the Church and are still, “strong members”. Four of them served missions and were married in the temple, including her eldest, Judy, who Jacqueline recalls had always wanted to go to South America. When Judy was called to Bolivia, she became the first Latter-day Saint missionary from New Zealand to serve in South America, and it was there that she met the man she would marry.
Gillian had five sons, four of whom served missions and married in the temple. Tragically, her son David died in a car accident in 1984, leaving behind a pregnant wife and two young daughters of his own.
Several miracles followed David’s sudden passing. In a priesthood blessing, his wife Joanne was told that the child she was carrying would be a boy, and that he would bear his father’s name. The blessing also revealed that on the other side of the veil, David had been before the Saviour, who assured him that Joanne would be taken care of – and she was. She went on to marry the doctor who delivered her and David’s son.
The miracles continued. “David came back to me three times in vision,” said Gillian. “The final visit, 11 days after the accident, he stood behind me while I was gardening and said, Mum, it’s just so busy up there, and he had an urgency about him, and then left.” She doesn’t doubt that his missionary work, of which he had many successes on earth, carries on in the spiritual realm.
Gillian’s remaining children, 23 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren – including two sets of twins - are scattered around New Zealand and Australia.
The sisters have many other stories to share about the blessings of their Church membership. “We owe so much to our Heavenly Father and Saviour Jesus Christ,” Gillian says with reverence. She draws much strength from the Saviour’s example of fasting and prayer. Her favourite scripture is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding.”
“We are here to learn self-mastery, govern our natures, appetites, passions, and draw closer to the divine nature of God,” she says.
Never shy of service, the sisters have a long history of Church and community involvement despite their busy family lives. In their later years, they both served missions of their own – Jacqueline to the Philippines, where she utilized her nursing skills, and Gillian to Melbourne. Even now, they continue to actively serve in their neighbourhood, through vegetable gardening and volunteering with local charities.
“It’s missionary work by example!”
These faithful twins are a double act in both looks and life. When asked to share their secret for longevity they both profess reading the scriptures daily and healthy eating. “Lots of homegrown raw vegetables, little meat and drinking lots of water,” says Jacqueline with her sister nodding in agreement.
When we closed this interview with a prayer, I couldn’t help but notice the ease with which they knelt their diminutive frames to the floor. Their recipe for a good and long life keeps paying dividends. Their double act is far from over yet.