Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas (Part 1 of 2)

This is what organizing Christmas looks like in the office. This is what it looked like the day I was putting the gifts into alphabetical order as we had so many, it was chaos. It took me all day from 9 am until 10 pm. (With a few interruptions in between). It was my job to make sure every gift that came in was marked down so we knew who had gifts and who didn't. We have a very diverse culture of missionaries, some from very humble circumstances, and some whose families are not even in contact with them because they have joined the church. We had very generous parents of missionaries send gift cards or extra filled stockings and even other gifts for missionaries that otherwise wouldn't receive anything for Christmas and we have very generous senior missionaries who gave gift cards along with their grown children who heard we needed cards donated. Some of our missionaries families don't even celebrate Christmas. It has been a very eye-opening and humbling experience for me with these good people we are surrounded by here. Our senior missionaries are the cream of the crop and every one of them teach me things every day that I will never forget. It made me realize how spoiled my boys were as missionaries and glad that I always included an extra stocking for their companions.

All organized, with an additional 65 bags that were donated by the stake for our missionaries who needed gifts. I wrote names on each tag and added a $25 gift card. By the time it was time for our Mission Christmas party, two days later, I had gone over everything so many times, I was dreaming about it. Then stressing I had missed someone as I had a nagging feeling to keep re-checking my list, which was good as I found one or two. In the end, I only missed one who for some reason was not on the list, but luckily I had an extra gift and card so it was all good! Whew!!

I painted a backdrop for a photo booth we had and here are some of our wonderful missionaries who had a part on the program for the Christmas Devotional before the fun and games of the day. They are Elders Satini, Simons and Paletua. Elder Satini sang a solo in the devotional that made me cry.

President Vidmar and Elder Skankey (above) after their handstand competition which President won. The handstands always draws a crowd and lots of cheering. Such great fun! 

Elder Gray and Elder Canepari (left), he definitely gets the prize for the best Christmas suit! 

President Vidmar (right) at the mission home "posing" for a picture by the Mission Home tree at the Senior Christmas party that we had two days after the mission party with all the missionaries. We always have a wonderful get-together with everyone and the food is always excellent! We always talk about exchanging recipes, I definitely have to get a few favorites before we come home like Sister Vidmar's Pretzel Jello recipe. Our family will love it!

Just look at these desserts!! Makes my mouth water all over again and I probably just gained another 5 pounds just thinking about it.

We have made so many great new friends here who are good, strong, faithful and have the biggest hearts. I feel so blessed to have made friends with such special people. They teach me and help me and are so loving and forgiving. I have a whole new appreciation for all of the people behind the scenes of running a mission, especially the President and his wife. There are so many hours put in. I also have to mention my friend and mentor Sister Horne who is the sweetest, most generous servant of the Lord. She is a volunteer who has been working in the office for about 7 or so years and is on her third mission president. She knows just about everything there is to know about running a mission office, has helped in almost every position, including patiently helps everyone with every question. She has taught me so much and is like a sister to me. We could not do it with out her. She never seeks praise and probably hardly ever gets it. She's amazing!

Brent and I (right) in front of the Nativity at the mission home. Sister Vidmar added a couple of Kangaroos to it. Ha ha, funny! (Click the photo for a better look!)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Australia Wanderings

Here are some random images of the various happenings here in the Australia Melbourne Mission over the past month or so...

Cassie Kennedy, who along with her husband Barry, recently arrived in the mission, got a wild hair and decided to "make" lunch for all of the missionaries at Zone Conference (instead of just buying it.) After a last minute run to Costco, she then proceeded to de-bone 21 chickens all by herself. She's either crazy or really loves the missionaries!

Since the Kennedys are new here, Trish and I took them to Healesville Sanctuary on our P-Day to introduce them to some of the native species.

Sister Aalto (Finland), Sister Cehajic (Austria), and Sister Hsieh (Taiwan) proudly pointing out that they changed a flat tire on their car all by themselves. (First time for all three of them!)  Way to go, Sisters, you rock!

The Senior Missionaries get together once every few months and take a little excursion to someplace fun and interesting. This time it was the gold mining town of Ballarat. This photo of our amazing Senior Sisters was taken at the famous Creswick Woollen Mills in Creswick, Victoria.

These five claim they did NOT plan it to be an "all stripes" day, but I'm not so sure.  ;-)

As we head out on the Aussie open road, we often see reminders like these. WELCOME TO AUSTRALIA! Home of more deadly animals than anywhere else!

One of our favorite stops was the Ballarat Bird World.

This is Paul, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday. He's been in the bird "business" for over 60 years and knows his stuff. He showed us around and was a funny, charming old bloke!

A bird on the head is worth two in the bush!



Breakfast in Ballarat at Cafe Lekker. (I normally don't take pictures of food, but this breakfast was SO good, I just had to memorialize it!) Smoked salmon and poached eggs on wood-fired Turkish bread with lemon and red onion cream cheese. Mmmm! Trish's pancake stack with freshly poached berries and cream wasn't bad either!

We ate dinner at the local Ballarat RSL. (RSL stands for Returned Soldiers’ Association; it's similar to our Veterans' Associations in the U.S.)  My buddy Elder Ferris gets our large group in because he is a member; works out great for a large number of people. President and Sister Vidmar drove up from Wantirna South and joined us for dinner, which is always a delight. (We love being with President and Sister Vidmar.)

At some point during the meal, President Vidmar said something about these kinds of chairs being perfect for hand stands. Well, that was that, he wasn't getting out of it after that! (We did have a private room, so this wasn't a show for the entire restaurant!) LOL!

Trish found a new friend in one of the shops.

Some of the men paid a visit to the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial, while the women visited the Ballarat Botanical Gardens. The Memorial symbolizes that all Australian prisoners embarked to serve away from their homeland and acknowledges the hardship, deprivation, brutality, starvation and disease endured by Prisoners of War during their capture and the scars many continued to endure upon their repatriation to Australia. It was sobering and inspiring. Freedom is certainly not free.

Who said it's the young people that have their noses in their phones too much?

Sister Vidmar came through for Thanksgiving and made sure we had a "turkey" for our Senior Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner. (You can't get a big turkey here like you can in the states, but the rest of the food was fabulous!)

Just in case you didn't notice, there are a lot of smiles on the faces of all of these people. Australia is a fun place to be, and we couldn't be among better "mates" than these amazing people, but I can assure you, those smiles come mostly from a lasting, peaceful satisfaction that we Senior Missionaries are here doing the Lord's work. It's a wonderful thing to serve others.

"The blessings of discipleship are readily available to all who are willing to pay the price. Discipleship brings purpose to our lives so that rather than wandering aimlessly, we walk steadily on that strait and narrow way that leads us back to our Heavenly Father. Discipleship brings us comfort in times of sorrow, peace of conscience, and joy in service--all of which help us to be more like Jesus." – James E. Faust

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Comings and Goings in the AMM

The days, weeks and months seem to fly by ... especially when measured by the frequency (or infrequency) of our blog posts.

Trish and I just celebrated realized that we passed our "Hump Day", the halfway point of our mission, last month. On one hand, it's hard to believe how fast the time flies; on the other hand, we miss our family back home so much that sometimes it seems a long ways off before we'll see them again.

The mixed feelings are strange: We can't wait to be with our kids and grand kids and hug them all again, but at the same time, we love serving here in this beautiful country with so many wonderful people.

Transfers are one way we measure time in the mission field. They occur exactly every 6 weeks. During transfer week we send home those missionaries who have completed their missionary service, and we receive new missionaries who are just beginning their 18-month (for the Sister missionaries) or 24-month (for the Elders) service. Last week was transfer week. We said goodbye to 8 wonderful missionaries and welcomed 10 new ones. Next month we will be welcoming 21 missionaries, which is a huge group. It's always hard to see them go, but it's a lot of fun to welcome the brand new ones with their fresh faces and wide eyes! 😥

Speaking of departures and arrivals, we sadly said goodbye to our wonderful friends, George and Kathleen Hyde, this past week. Elder and Sister Hyde worked in the mission office with us, so we saw them and associated with them just about every day.  They ended their mission service after one year, a little sooner than some senior couples, so that they could go to Indonesia to pick up their daughter who is serving a mission there. I think to say Elder & Sister Hyde are excited to see their daughter would be an understatement!

The Hydes were the ones that welcomed us and helped us get settled when we first arrived in Australia 10 months ago. They showed us the ropes, taught us to drive on the left side of the road and basically put their arms around us. Their strong testimonies of the gospel and example of faithful, dedicated service were a great example to us. Many of our fondest memories and choicest experiences here in the mission field happened with the Hydes and we will miss them very much!

But as I mentioned above, they go, but then they also come! About 10 days ago we welcomed Barry and Cassie Kennedy to the mission and to the mission office. Sister Kennedy will now be the Mission Secretary, replacing Sister Hyde, and Elder Kennedy is going to take over for me as the Vehicle Coordinator. (I am replacing Elder Hyde as the Finance Secretary, so I've got a lot to learn!)

The Kennedys are from California and we are already enjoying their friendship so much. I have a feeling we're going to have a blast with the Kennedys! 

I don't think I've written much about the Senior Missionaries, couples and singles, that serve here, but it is one of the truly awesome aspects of being in the mission field! We are making lifelong friendships and feel privileged to serve with such wonderful people.

When Senior missionaries depart, we usually get together at the Mission Home for a potluck dinner and just to socialize with one another. Here's a photo (with President Vidmar selfie included) of the Senior missionaries that attended the last get-together. What a great bunch!

There is no question about it, serving this mission is one of the greatest experiences Trish and I have ever had. It's not always easy, and it's tough being away from our loved ones, but there is something special and truly extraordinary about serving with—and for—others. And the opportunity to associate with (and perhaps even influence the lives of) the young missionaries is the best part of it all! What a blessing!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Sword of Truth

Trish and I are continually amazed as we watch young 18, 19 and 20-year old missionaries faithfully serve, teach and inspire. Logically, it does not make sense. They do not have enough life experience to do what they do—they are just "kids". Yet they do it. It is a miracle that we cannot explain, other than to personally testify that this truly is our Savior's work and His glory, which is to bring immortality and eternal life to all of His children.

"The battle to bring souls unto Christ began in the premortal world with the war in heaven (see Revelation 12:7). That same battle continues today in the conflict between right and wrong and between the gospel and false principles. The members of the Church hold a front-line position in the contest for the souls of men. The missionaries are on the battlefield fighting with the sword of truth to carry the glorious message of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the peoples of the earth." —  M. Russell Ballard

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Random Happiness

So many things happen during a single month in the mission field that it's impossible to write about it all. Here are some random photos that tell some of the July story...

1) Oh man, it's tough to say goodbye! These 10 great missionaries concluded their missionary service and headed home last week. We wish them well in the next phase of their lives, but will miss them a lot.

2) Sister Gray and Sister Horne helping to send off the departing missionaries at the airport. (Sister Horne is a local Aussie volunteer, not a "called" missionary. She selflessly provides many, many of hours of service and is a huge asset in the Mission Office. To say she is valuable to us office missionaries would be a gigantic understatement! We really love and appreciate her.)

3) They go ... and then they come! The day after we said goodbye to the 10 above, we welcomed 10 more to replace the departing. These 8 Elders and 2 Sisters are going to be amazing missionaries!

4) As we conclude our work for the day and leave the Mission Office each evening, this is what we see. The Melbourne evening sky at around 5:30 p.m. is always a gorgeous dark blue and an amazing backdrop to the beautiful Melbourne Temple.

5) We've been closing down quite a few old flats recently and opening new ones. We "old" people can't lift anything because we all have bad backs, so we recruit the young, strong missionaries to do the heavy lifting. It actually makes for a very fun day because any day you can "hang out" with the missionaries is a very good day indeed! 

6) Not all of the hard work is done by the young ones though! Elder Andersen and Elder Ferris have been a HUGE help getting some of our flats and our mission bikes back into tip-top shape.

7) It was transfer week last week and it was a crazy one when it comes to the movement of our cars. A total of 29 vehicles changed hands in two days! (Vehicle Coordinator Insanity!) And yet somehow, it all worked out. Hmm, I wonder who The Master is that's in charge of all of this?

8) We are short on missionaries who have driver's licenses right now, so we have an overabundance of cars awaiting missionaries that can drive. Please pray for licensed drivers to be called to the Australia Melbourne Mission! (That means you, Skyler Call!)

9) The Mission Home is a beautiful home where I have experienced some of the most spiritual lessons ever taught, and eaten some incredible meals prepared by Sister Vidmar. One of the most interesting rooms in the mission home is the living room/ping pong room. Here is President Vidmar showing some incredible form. (He was a much better gymnast!)  ;-)

10) The Mission Office is a busy place and honestly, we don't get out much, but when we do, Australia has some beautiful sights to see. It's winter here, so we didn't stick our toes in the water, but this sure was a pretty beach.

11) The missionaries helped out as scorekeepers at a Regional LDS Basketball Tournament a couple of weeks ago. The tournament is massive with over 1,000 participants from all over the Melbourne area. They have eight courts going solid for an entire day! It's also a great missionary opportunity as each team is required to have at least one non-member on the team. Our Elders did a great job manning the scoring tables.

12) The missionaries also fielded a pretty serious team of their own and played each other in an exhibition game! It was a fun game to watch and I think the Elders had a good time, too! (Elder Smiler who is from Hamilton, New Zealand (back row second from the left) ended the game with a monstrous dunk after being fed the ball off the backboard. Wow!)

13) To conclude the tournament, they held a Youth Fireside the following evening. Some guy by the name of Peter Vidmar, who is an Olympic Gold Medalist, just happened to be in town and was the featured speaker. It was standing room only! (I wonder if those in attendance realize how lucky they were to be taught that evening by President Vidmar?) 

14) In Australia, a blank wall (anywhere) is an invitation to a graffiti artist. So, many businesses take a preemptive approach and paint the walls of their businesses with their own "graffiti". Some of it is spectacular! This one is on the side of a small grocery store that we drive by on our way to the office every day.

15) Australia loves chocolate! (And so do I.) This bunny is outside of the Lindt factory outlet store in Moorabbin. Trish and I do flat inspections in the Braeside Zone about every 6 weeks, and oh darn, the chocolate factory store just happens to be in our area! What to do?

16) The Sister Missionaries are teaching an 11-year old boy named Matthew (left) who just happens to be a darned good tennis player. So, Elder Knight from Layton, Utah (second from the right) arranged a "Tennis Day" with other members of the ward and invited me. That's Joseph Lavaka on the right; he is the son of the First Counselor in the Narre Warren Stake Presidency and is a very good tennis player.

17) Matthew and I took on Joseph and Elder Knight and came away with a well-fought 7-5 win. Everyone played well and had a lot of fun!

The Victors!

18) OK, so maybe this last one is a little off-color, but I had to post a photo of the most famous car in the Australia Melbourne Mission fleet. That's Elder Muns from Moapa, NV, who is the current designated driver, giving a proud thumbs up!

Life is extremely good in the Australia Melbourne Mission! We feel blessed every day to have this opportunity to serve.