Sunday, January 29, 2017

Common Sticks

This has been an incredible week here in the Australia Melbourne Mission as we have had a General Authority in our midst. Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, along with Sister Nielsen, have been with us the entire week, speaking and teaching in three zone conferences, and spending time with us senior missionaries for dinner on Thursday evening. What a treat!

Singing 'Called to Serve' with Elder & Sister Nielsen at Zone Conference

Elder Nielsen's visit to our mission reminded me of a story Elder Boyd K. Packer related about Karl G. Maeser, who was an early German convert to the church. Over 150 years ago Brother Maeser was leading a party of young missionaries across the Alps. As they reached the summit, he looked back and saw a row of sticks thrust into the snow to mark the one safe path across the otherwise treacherous glacier. Halting the company of missionaries, he gestured toward the sticks and said, “Brethren, there stands the priesthood of God. They are just common sticks like the rest of us, … but the position they hold makes them what they are to us. If we step aside from the path they mark, we are lost.”

That's how I feel about the General Authorities of this Church and it's how I felt in Elder Nielsen's presence this week. He may be just a "common stick", but the position he holds tells me he is a man whose words I can trust ... and follow. He taught for hour after hour without a single note. Sister Gray and I only attended one of the three Zone Conferences, but from what we heard, each Conference was significantly different from the others. Elder Nielsen truly taught by the spirit, which was evident from the experience we had with him.

On Thursday evening, the senior missionaries gathered at the mission home for a much more intimate gathering and dinner. It's difficult to explain how that feels, to be in the presence of a General Authority, who is so committed to serving the Lord. President Vidmar and Elder Nielsen both talked about the missionary work happening in our mission right now. In particular, we discussed the Book of Mormon campaign that the Church has launched in Melbourne, to coincide with the Book of Mormon play. It is truly amazing! (More on that in our next blog post.)

At the end of the Zone Conference we got to see our first handstand competition between President Vidmar and any missionary who is willing to challenge him. (From what we hear, it's a Zone Conference tradition!) On this day, as a General Authority happily looks on, Elder Wiser, who just happens to be a graduate of Trish's and my alma mater, Weber High School, was victorious with a one and a half minute handstand. (Although Elder Wiser claims President Vidmar let him win, I'm not so sure about that. Elder Wiser was rock solid!) It was a good time for all.

Life in the mission field is incredible. I can't really explain it. But being in the service of the Savior's work is truly one of the most satisfying and rewarding things we have ever done.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The day will come when they will rise up and call you blessed...

My job in the mission office is several parts. Ordering mission supplies, pamphlets, Books of Mormon, all in different languages, etc. You should see the wall of copies of The Book of Mormon stacked in their respective country's language! I was amazed how many we had, and we don't even have all of the languages. I also enter baptisms and call missionaries to get their paperwork to me after the baptism happens. Most of the time I get the records a few days after the baptisms, but sometimes, it takes weeks to get the missionaries to bring them in or send them. I have about mastered the baptism entry and record keeping.

This week has been full of learning the ins and outs of how to record and send referrals of new investigators to the missionaries and order mission materials for the missionaries to be able to hand out to their investigators. Then I make sure the stuff that is now being shipped in is the complete order, then I count it and then those records are filed or handed to the right people. The sister that is teaching me (Sister Horne) has the patience of Job! She is very kind and tells me I am doing okay. I feel very inadequate on the computer.

When I am caught up with the things I do, or Sister Horne is not there for more lessons, I fill in where there are needs. I help the secretary (Sister Hyde) go through files and shred old ones, or we make up "quit smoking" booklets for the missionaries' investigators who want to quit smoking, and I help Elder Gray with filing his car reports. I have gone with him to drop cars at the dealer to get repaired or pick them up. We went and picked up a car an hour and a half away on Thursday and I drove our car home and Brent drove the other car. I followed him home. We have been here three weeks and I had driven TWICE before! TWICE!! On the wrong side of the car, and the wrong side of the road! THAT was a new experience! I got stuck at a light once and in finding Brent again, got honked at once and a finger flew up once, well, that I saw, but I made it home with no scratches or dents ... to the car anyway.

We went to a beautiful park for a picnic on Saturday evening with our new friends, the Hydes. They had been there before and saw kangaroos and thought we would enjoy seeing them. There was a lake and picnic tables under trees. We had a nice dinner and visited and then walked around the park on some paths and a bridge on the side of the lake, and then we saw our first two kangaroos of the evening, a little one and another just a bit bigger. As we walked on we saw a couple of really big 'roos with smaller ones in some trees. Like deer, they come out in the evening to graze on the grass when it gets cooler. They didn't seem to care that we were there unless we got a little too close. It was really fun to see them hop. They hold their massive tails up and off they go effortlessly! We came back to our flat and topped our evening off with a bowl of ice cream and a game of cards. We have taught them how to play "Up the River Down the River", our family's favorite!

When we got to Australia two days before Christmas, there was a Christmas party the night we arrived and we received a little gift from President Vidmar and his wife. It was a pin for Brent and a necklace for me with the mission "Coat of Arms." With them we got a quote that is amongst a collage of pictures of our family, soon to hang on our wall. I love that it is mixed in with the pictures of our kids and grandkids because I believe it to be true. It says: "Your absence is the most powerful testimony you will ever bear to your posterity. The day will come when they will rise up and call you blessed because you were gone for a season. Those grandchildren (and children) will never pray as hard for you as they do while you are serving a mission." ﹘ David A. Bednar

I remember praying for my children who served missions to be strong and faithful and obedient. It is hard to be away from everyone, missions are hard, but I am grateful for all this modern technology (even if I do struggle with it) because I get to see my family often. And I do feel your prayers, and I am grateful to be here with my eternal companion and grateful for his love and patience. I am not grateful to cook dinner every night or make lunches every day, but I can do it! I love you all!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Mission Life – Part 3 – Our Core Purpose

The third and most important aspect of Mission Life for us relates to our purpose for being here. The defined missionary purpose is to "invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored Gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost,  and enduring to the end." Even though we are not out actively proselyting or teaching, this is still our purpose, too.

Every mission has certain "administrative" requirements. The office staff varies according to the needs of the specific mission, but usually includes a finance secretary, a mission secretary, and in many cases, individuals to oversee transportation, housing and other activities. Missionary work requires the efforts of a lot of people! Our service in the office allows the full-time missionaries to focus on their proselyting activities and not worry about paying bills, finding a place to live or getting around.

When I think of missionary work and the reason Trish and I are here, I am reminded of a story Elder M. Russell Ballard told in General Conference a few years ago. He told the story of a seven-year-old girl showing her grandfather a small tomato plant she had started from a single seed as part of a second-grade school project. She explained that from one tiny seed would come a plant and if the plant were cared for, it would grow many tomatoes that would each have many seeds. Elder Holland continued:
She said, “...if all of those seeds were planted and grew more tomatoes, and you planted all of those seeds, in a few seasons you would have millions of tomatoes.” 
“All,” she said in amazement, “from one little seed.” 
But then she said, “I almost killed my plant. I left it in a dark room and forgot to water it. When I remembered the plant, it was all wilted and dead looking. I cried because I thought of all of those millions of tomatoes that would never grow.” 
She was then excited to tell her grandfather about the “miracle” that happened.
She explained, “Momma said maybe the plant wasn’t dead. Maybe all it needed was some water and some light to bring life back. 
“And she was right. I gave the plant some water, and I put it in the window for light. And guess what?” she asked. “It came back to life, and now it’s going to grow millions of tomatoes!” 
Her small tomato plant, so full of potential but so weakened and wilted from unintentional neglect, was strengthened and revived through the simple ministration of water and light by the little girl’s loving and caring hands.
Heavenly Father's work and his glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). We know we are where the Lord wants us to be, doing the work that the Lord wants us to do. We know that the Lord is in charge of and directs His work. Our mission president, President Vidmar, works under direct inspiration and revelation from God, and the missionaries, including those of us called to work in the mission office, seek to also have that same spirit of inspiration and revelation and to help provide the "water and the light" so needed in the lives of others.

Working together with the incredible full-time missionaries, I know we will accomplish the missionary goal of bringing others to Christ, so that they may enjoy all of the blessings of the gospel.

Mission Life – Part 2 – Day-to-Day Responsibilities

Everybody wants to know what we actually do most of the time here as missionaries. So, in Part 2 of Mission Life, I'll explain our day-to-day responsibilities.

When most people think of missionary work, they think of 18-21 year old young men and young women out knocking on doors, street contacting, and, as often as possible, sharing the message of the restored gospel with others. We don't do that, exactly, instead, we make it possible for those young missionaries to do just that.

Operating a mission with 180+ missionaries is complicated stuff, with lots of moving parts. (Unbelievably LOTS of moving parts!) There are finances to manage, an automobile fleet to coordinate, housing needs to oversee, and hundreds of communications and records and files to manage. It is truly a major undertaking, not so dissimilar to running a business with 200 employees.

Sister Gray (aka Trish) is in charge of recording baptisms, coordinating incoming and outgoing referrals, ordering supplies and generally assisting the Mission Secretary with the thousand other things that are constantly going on in the office. It's a big job and it keeps her busy all day every day.

I am currently the Vehicle Coordinator and manage the mission's fleet of 90 or so cars, which by the way, are about 95% white Toyota Corollas. (When we arrived, the mission president said we could choose any color of car we wanted as long as it was white.) As I've quickly learned, managing this large fleet of cars (and the "teenagers" who drive them) is a pretty daunting task. In addition to constantly assigning (and reassigning) cars to the missionaries, there are maintenance and repair issues, fuel cards to issue and track, lots of reports, and unfortunately, accidents and moving violations, all of which have to be tracked and managed. I'm doing my best, but am still learning.

We (generally) work in the mission office Monday through Friday from about 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 or 6:00 p.m, but we are essentially "on call" for anything that could happen in the mission at anytime.

Those are some of our typical day-to-day responsibilities. Surprised? Some people wonder why we are even called "missionaries" if we just work in the office. To understand that and learn more about our Mission Life here in Australia, read Part 3 – Our Core Purpose.

Mission Life – Part 1 – Life in Australia

Warning! This is going to be a long, 3-part post! But I thought I would take some time to tell, in a little more detail, what life is like for us here in Australia. I'm writing it in three separate "parts" because there are three different aspects of serving here, each worth mentioning.

First, life in Australia. This has been an adventure so far, for sure! From learning to drive on the left side of the road (with a driver's seat on the other side of the car) to understanding the nuances of the language, to using the metric system of kilometers instead of miles, to understanding the currency exchange rate, it's been a couple of weeks of learning and adjusting. And of course the seasons are the opposite, so it's summer here now, and hot!

Speaking of the weather, Melbourne weather is about as unpredictable as it gets. The high can reach 95 degrees one day and only get to 60 the next! That's a huge range and the local weather forecast doesn't really seem to help much. And we always keep an umbrella in the car because even on nice sunny days, thunderstorms seem to come out of nowhere. And then disappear as fast as they came. But it's not all that humid, so even the hot days aren't too bad.

Driving has really been interesting. It only took a couple of days to get used to driving on the left side of the road, but there are several other things that are different than in the states. First, there are very few stop signs, which is nothing short of brilliant! Instead, there are lots of yield signs and round-abouts. Yield signs, which actually don't say "Yield" at all, but say "Give Way" instead, make every corner much easier to navigate. They even have Give Way signs (for left turns) on the busiest highways. I love it! And round-abouts, even on fairly busy streets, keep the traffic moving a lot better than stop signs or lights. We see round-abouts on many of the main streets and even in many neighborhoods, not just for the occasional intersection, but for many of them. Once you get used to them, they work great.

Another big difference between driving in Australia and back home is speed limits, or rather, speed control. Here, they have traffic cameras EVERYWHERE! If you speed, you get your picture taken. And the penalty for just 7-10 KPH over the limit is about $200! A red light is more than $300! The bottom line is that unless you're rich, you simply don't speed here. Cars, even on major freeways and highways all go pretty-much the same speed, so there's very little passing between one car and another. (From what I hear, the death rate from traffic accidents is way lower here, so the system must be working.)

Saturday is our P-Day, or Preparation Day. (We work in the mission office M-F, but more on that in the next part — Day-to-Day Responsibilities.) On P-Day we take care of personal needs like grocery shopping, cleaning our flat, laundry and writing letters home. We are also able to do some fun things like play tennis or travel around and see the sights. For example, yesterday we went to the Healesville Sanctuary, which is sort of like a zoo, but in a more natural habitat, and saw the native animals, birds, reptiles and plants. It was a lot of fun. (And for those of you that are wondering, no, I have not yet played tennis, just haven't had time, but I do plan on doing that soon.)

We live in small two-bedroom twin home in Bayswater, which is about 40 minutes east of Melbourne. (The assistants to the mission president live in the flat next door, which is a nice bonus. We love those missionaries!) Our flat isn't anything special, but it's comfortable and works just fine for our needs. The only drawback is that the air conditioner is not central air like we have back home, it's a wall-mounted unit that is located in our family room on the opposite end of the flat from our bedroom. That's made for some warm nights. Our home is located in a typical residential neighborhood. Just about every neighborhood has a "Milk Bar" right down the street, which is basically a little neighborhood grocery store, with the emphasis on "little." We don't do our regular grocery shopping there, but it's nice when you need a liter of milk or a loaf of bread.

So, there you go, a little bit about life Down Under. Scroll up to read Part 2 – Day-to-Day Responsibilities.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from Down Under!

We have had a very busy week! It was transfer week this week and therefore we had missionaries in and out of the office all week. Lots of pizza, salads and cookies during orientation and training. We are still learning what we are responsible for and how to do it. Brent has been learning all about the car fleet, taking the new missionary drivers out for little test drives and getting his white shirts dirty faster, and I am entering new convert baptisms, writing welcome letters and a score of other things that they ask of me.

The weather here is very unpredictable every day. We have learned to look at the temperature throughout the day before we get ready in the morning to see if we should dress warmer or cooler. I have had a couple of days where I was too cold because it started out beautiful and cooled off. The rainstorm we got a couple of days ago was a major storm that flooded the chapel and foyer of the church where the mission office is located, and later we ended up driving thru some deep water on our way home that night.

We had a chance to get out over the weekend, and went for a Friday night date night with our new friends the Hydes and President and Sister Vidmar and had a nice dinner at a Thai restaurant. It was fun to wear jeans and sandals and feel relaxed. We stopped at a little Gelato shop for an after-dinner treat and it brought back memories of going to Italy with the Curtis's and getting Gelato where ever we could. On Saturday evening for New Years Eve, we went to a really good hamburger place and had dinner with the Hydes and came back here and played a few card games and taught them how to play "Up and Down the River." We also invited the AP's over (who live in the other side of our flat) for "American-made" shakes. (Ausie's make them too runny!) We had a great New Year's in Australia!