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.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Phillip Island

Saturday we decided to take a road trip to a place called Phillip Island for an up close and personal encounter with some kangaroos, wallabies and various other animals. We went with our friends and fellow senior couples the Hydes and the Maughans. 

We wanted to go there because we had heard you can feed and even pet kangaroos up close. It did not disappoint!

The kangaroos came right up to us and wanted the food we had to offer. They have some pretty long claws on those little front paws, but they were very gentle and we didn't get clawed. They would grab our proffered hand with the food in it and hold on until they had licked our hands clean. Some were a little more greedy than others and one mama huffed at me a couple of times because I was not getting the food out of my pocket fast enough for her.

As you can see by looking at the background in some of the photos, we were in an open "wild" area, not inside a cage. Obviously, these roos are pretty used to humans, so not totally wild, but certainly wild enough for us!

It was a really fun experience to be so up close and personal with a wild animal. So close, in fact, that you could see their eyelashes, which, by the way, were really quite long! They have powerful legs, and those tails are super strong and act like another leg to balance with. There were dark grey ones and light ones. Some a little more brown.

Patiently waiting for Brent to give him more food

 Here is a mama Roo with her baby in the pouch looking out

 Baby Joey in head first with just his legs sticking out. Haha!

 All filled up and just chillin' now

Here's a little video you can click on:

This little guy is a wallaby; they are smaller than kangaroos and a little more reddish in color with dark ears, and are really cute

 This is a Wombat. Weird name for something that looks nothing like a bat, but more like a pig and is actually related to the Koala family. He looked fat and cuddly though.

Two very pretty ducks and a colorful-looking emu-type bird

This very colorful Kookaburra has a very cool bird call. We only get to hear it once in a while where we live. Our office mates, the Hydes, have seen them and heard them several times on their morning walks. If you would like to hear the song of the amazing Kookaburra click here.
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Merry, merry King of the bush is he,
Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh,
Kookabura gay your life must be!

Us at the chocolate factory where we got hot chocolate on the way back home

We get to work with the BEST people on Earth!

Australia is awesome!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Thunder Down Under

This coming week is Transfer Week. I have a love/hate relationship with Transfer Week. It's really fun to see the new Golden missionaries arrive from the MTC with a look of excitement, high hopes (and jet lag) on their faces, but it's brutal to say goodbye to others. Truly, one of the hardest things about serving as a senior missionary is saying goodbye to amazing and incredible young missionaries when the time comes for them to return to their homes.

Here are some of the amazing missionaries we will say goodbye to this week:

As office staff, we get to know many of the missionaries very well ... and it's hard to see them go. To most of you looking at this blog, they are just a bunch of ordinary Mormon missionaries, not a lot different than the thousands of other missionaries serving around the world. But to us, they are far from ordinary, they are extra-ordinary, and each and every one of them is a story of growth, and successes, and overcoming hardships and challenges, and friendships, and miracles. In a way each of them IS a miracle.

I'm not sure how to put into words what these young, energetic and spiritual young men and young women mean to us. The closest explanation I can offer would be to compare it to how I feel about my own adult children, who are my best friends, and who I miss like crazy!

One of the departing missionaries who I love dearly is Elder Oscar John Francis Rizardo Olan, from the Philippines. (Yes, that's his name!) Elder Olan (far left) is one of the kindest, most loving missionaries I have ever met. Most recently, he has been serving, along with Elder Walbeck, as an Assistant to President Vidmar, which meant that Sister Gray and I were able to associate with and get to know him and a little more than usual. (The Assistants also live right next door to us in Bayswater, which provided other opportunities to rub shoulders with them.)

Elder Olan is an amazing teacher and leader and I have learned a lot from his humble example and testimony. He will be a true blessing to his family and others back home in the Philippines. I get emotional just thinking about saying goodbye to Elder Olan and several other amazing missionaries who are going home in this transfer. I'm not sure if I'll ever get to see Elder Olan again. Hopefully, so.

There's another reason I'll miss Elder Olan: He is an incredible ping pong player! Being a tennis player, I have played a little ping pong myself over the years and Elder Olan proved to be a more-than-able opponent! There just happens to be a ping pong table at the Mission Home and a couple of times a month on P-Day, Elder Olan and I would meet there to see who would be the victor that day. We had some epic battles! It seemed that some days he was just too tough to beat, yet on others, I was able to squeak out a win or two. It was always back and forth and neither of us could claim superiority over the other.

Last P-Day was to be our final battle, winner take all, Mission bragging rights for ever and ever. President Vidmar called it "The Thunder Down Under" and created an "official" scoreboard complete with quotes from ping pong "experts" around the world, to track the wins and losses. (Zoom in on the photo to read the quotes!) The champion would be crowned based on whoever could win the best of 11 games (or first one to 6). The infamous Howard Cosell (aka P-Viddy) even made an appearance from the grave to interview the contestants. The Final Contest was on!

Elder Olan came out swinging with incredibly aggressive play and quickly went up 1-0. I came back with a tight win to even things up at 1 all. Then Elder Olan got serious and whooped me 11 to 4 in game 3 to take a 2-1 lead. I settled down and played a little smarter and evened the score at 2 games apiece. But then Elder Olan went on a tear, winning two straight games for a commanding 4-2 lead.

I picked up the next game, but Elder Olan came right back with another victory to make the overall score 5-3 in favor of Elder Olan. He only needed one more win to be crowned the champion. It was not looking good for me.

That was when Howard "Tell It Like It Is" Cosell entered the picture. He interviewed a humble Elder Olan first, who admitted he knew it wasn't over yet. (I wasn't so sure.) But it was when Cosell/P-Viddy asked me how I could possibly come back from a 5-3 deficit, that I found my advantage: age! I told Cosell that while my skilled opponent had youth and good looks, he lacked the wisdom that only comes with age. The Intimidation Factor was in play and game 9 began.

I don't remember the exact score in the next two games, but I do remember getting down 8-3 or something like that. I thought I was toast. But somehow I inched my way back into those two games and eventually won them both, tying up the score 5 all. Next game wins it all.

And what a final game it was! It was no surprise when we suddenly found ourselves tied at 10 points each. (For those who don't know the proper scoring in table tennis, games are played to 11 with players alternating serve every two points. At 10 all, the serve alternates back and forth between the players after every point. And you have to win by two.)

So, there we were, 5 all in games and 10 all in point in the final game. One thing is for sure, it could easily have gone either way, but on this day age and wisdom won over youth and beauty. (Truth be told, I got really lucky!)

It's a memory Elder Olan and I will treasure forever. See ya around, Elder Oscar John Francis Rizardo Olan. You will be missed.

Friday, May 12, 2017

In the Zone: Meet our Missionaries

We just finished up Zone Conferences this past week, which for us Senior Missionaries, is one of the highlight moments of our mission. These young (mostly) 18, 19, 20 and 21-year old "kids" are truly amazing and a miracle to watch their growth throughout their mission experience. Be sure to watch the video at the bottom, too!

Braeside Zone

Craigieburn Zone

Deer Park Zone

Gippsland Zone

Heidelberg Zone

Maroondah Zone

Melbourne Chinese Zone

Narre Warren Zone

Tasmania Zone

Wangaratta Zone

Wyndham Zone

A cheap phone video doesn't do justice to what it's like to be in the same room with 50 or 60 awesome missionaries enthusiastically belting out "Called To Serve", but turn up your volume, click the video below, and maybe you'll get a little bit of a feel for what it's like to be there!