Friday, December 27, 2013

DECEMBER 27, 2013

Christmas and Boxing Day have come and gone, and we are  anticipating a spectacular New Year's Eve celebration in Wagga, one last drive to Melbourne, and a long and hopefully uneventful flight home on January 7.   The days leading up to Christmas were not very conducive to us feeling the Christmas Spirit, as temperatures hovered in the high 90's, one day reaching 112.2.   We listened to Christmas Carols driving back and forth from Melbourne, and when the car thermometer registered 36, we pretended it was farenheit, not celsius, but getting out of the car at a rest stop quickly dispelled that notion.  Christmas decorations adorned the shops and buildings,  Christmas Carols played in the stores starting early in October, the streets bustled with busy shoppers searching for the perfect gift, but it just didn't seem like Christmas.

The Wagga Branch had a sucessful Christmas party/dinner, consisting of roast lamb, roasted vegetables, salad, and a huge variety of desserts.  We were in charge of cooking two roasts, which came from a sheep slaughtered earlier in the week by the Elders Quorum President.  Our experience cooking lamb was definitely lacking, and we are lucky we didn't burn the house down.  We ended up supplementing our roasts with two beef roasts, because we cooked the lamb to death.  For our little branch, we had an incredible turn-out for the party, with more than 90 people attending.

Another highlight of the month was the Australia Melbourne Mission Christmas party, held in Melbourne. With the exception of missionaries serving in Tasmania, all missionaries attended.  Sister Maxwell, who sang with the Tabernacle Choir in her other life,  wrote and produced an incredible musical devotional focusing on the Savior's birth.  Musically talented missionaries participated in a small orchestra and accompanied the narration, playing rented instruments consisting of a violin, bassoon, oboe, clarinet, and french horn.  The musical contributions of these and other gifted missionaries was amazing and certainly brought the Spirit.  We had a delicious lunch, consisting of turkey, ham, and roast beef, with all the trimmings, then talents from missionaries throughout the mission were showcased in a great talent show.  After the talent show, the missionaries collected hundreds of boxes of goodies and gifts and mail from home.

It was hard to be away from family on Christmas, but we enjoyed a yummy Christmas Eve dinner in Coolaman with the Van Asperen family.  The sunset that evening was spectacular and reminded us of that miraculous evening in hills surrounding Jerusalem, when angels appeared to the shepherds, announcing the birth of Jesus Christ.   On Christmas Day,  three precious Chinese daughters rode the train 6 hours from Melbourne to spend the day and night with us.  We ate lots of treats and chocolate, watched and napped through a couple of Christmas movies, went on a  tour of Wagga, drove around neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights on houses, and had a yummy dinner.   We shed a few tears when we put them on the train the next day, knowing we might not see them again.

Missionary work has been good, and both companionships of sisters have had a baptism in the last two weeks.  On Christmas Eve day, our Christmas miracle was a  first lesson with a lady from Libya, who in every way is prepared and ready to be taught more about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and without question, accepted our challenge for baptism.   We couldn't have asked for a better Christmas gift.

We now have the job of sorting through our things, deciding what to leave and what to pack, tying up loose ends with our assignments, and saying good-bye to this land down-under.

There is a hole in the ozone layer of the atmosphere over Australia, so it is really important that Max protects his skin from the harmful skin-cancer producing rays. 

A kangaroo guard and a P tag, warning motorists that the driver only has a provisional licence.  By law, this tag has to be clearly displayed.

Girls just want to have fun!

There are acres and acres of orange groves and grape vines near Griffith. 

The huge tanks contain grape juice waiting to be shipped to Sydney and made into wine.  

Sister Tui and Fameitau take advantage of the drive from Griffith to Wagga to catch up on a little sleep.  

Sajad is an electrical engineer from Iran, also a political refugee from that country, and a new member of the Church.  He is working towards obtaining  permanent residency in Australia. 

The red-breasted cockatoos are very common in and around Wagga and are quite tame. 

One Saturday morning, we went to the farmers market at Lake Albert.  Notice the pristine, mud colored lake in the background.  People actually water-ski and swim in this lake!

Sister Gonzales and  Ricks called for a rescue when one of the bikes had gear trouble.  They have such good attitudes, and we were happy to accommodate their need. 

Sister Ricks ran cross-country track for BYU, and I mistakenly agreed to take her on a run.  She literally ran circles around me!  The lavender blossoms on the Jacaranda tree is a welcome contrast to the dry grass most places in Wagga this time of the year. 

Early in December, Yvonne, a Chinese daughter studying in Melbourne, spent two days with us, celebrating the one year anniversary of her baptism.  

When the Zone Leaders found out we were having a District Christmas Party, they wanted to come. We exchanged gifts, played some games, including "Booga Booga," and ate pizza.  Sister Ricks, Max, and I are the only Americans in the photo, as Elder Munroe and Whitehead are from Australia and New Zealand.  

Yvonne was very helpful in the kitchen, as we prepared food for a baptism and for the district meeting.  

Rangi, a young woman from Tonga was baptized by Henry Hughes, a 16 year old in the branch. Sister Tui and Fameitau often coordinate their clothes. 

The peacock at the Wagga Botanical Gardens and Zoo put on quite a show for Yvonne and me. 

As did this Joey, getting a little snack from his mama's pouch.  

Gene from Taiwan, is the baptismal candidate in this photo, and was baptized by Max.  I didn't get the memo to wear green.

Nathan is famous, because he has a park named after him in Wagga Wagga!

When we went to Melbourne, we bought all the sisters in the district  an Australia jacket at Queen Vic. Market.  They won't be needing them for a while. 

We had to take a picture of the "Postie" delivering the mail.  Every place we've been, the mail is delivered  by motorcycle.....through rain, sleet, frost, and heat!

We had birthday dinner for Sister Tui and invited their neighbor, Irene to join us.  

The "Poutou" family table at the Wagga Branch Christmas Party

Sister  Tracy Hughes

The Wagga Branch Young Men and Women

Nativity production, featuring  Max, dressed in my green bath robe, as King Herod.

Wendy and Tim Lacy lived upstairs from us when we lived in the city.  We had lots of fun with them until we were transferred far, far away.  Maybe we had too much fun; hence the transfer???  We were happy to catch up a bit at the Mission Christmas Party.    

Elder Murdock, Max, and Elder Rex Gines

The cultural hall was filled with missionaries of all sizes, shapes, and colors when we gathered for a yummy lunch at the mission Christmas party. 

The Wagga Wagga missionaries

Always eager to help, missionaries helped Santa deliver Christmas gifts to assigned classrooms.   There were a couple of thousand gifts to be distributed.    

We served with Elders Li and Liao, both from Taiwan, when we were in the city.  This is Elder Li's last day in the mission field.   I taught him how to pronounce the "th" sound.

We are in the process of gathering in front of the Melbourne Temple for a mission picture.  It was a bit like herding cats!

President and Sister Maxwell are patient, kind, strong, and inspirational leaders.   I'm sure they breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Christmas celebrations were over.  

Isaac Bloy (left) is the first counselor in the Wagga Branch Presidency, and Bob Hughes (right) is the Branch President.  

Christmas Eve Dinner at the Van Asperens, and what a feast we had!

Christmas Eve Sunset.  We wondered if angels would appear again. 

More Christmas Eve Sunset

Linda and Caroline are two of our Chinese daughters, and they, along with Ava, rode the train from Melbourne to spend Christmas with us.   We  took them to the rose garden in the Wagga Wagga Civic Center on Christmas Day.  For sure, all of Wagga doesn't look like this!

The sister missionaries dropped by on Christmas Day and helped consume some of the left-over Christmas dinner.  How we love all these girls!  

Linda took over Max's job at the sink washing dishes.  

We put Caroline in charge of frosting an orange poppyseed cake.  They don't have ovens in China, so baking is a new experience for our Chinese daughters.

One more Wagga experience was attending the dog races at the Wagga Show Ground.  It was a pleasant evening, and we liked seeing how fast the dogs run as they chase the little rabbit around the track.  Max picked the winners two out of three races.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

DECEMBER 5, 2013.....Checking in from Wagga Wagga, New South Wales

Wagga Wagga means "Many Crows," and we have seen our share of crows, magpies, different varieties of cockatoos, colorful parrots, lots of bugs, flies, bees, and even a poor little lizard that found its way into our kitchen.  We weren't happy about the prospect of sharing our living space with lizards, so bought weather stripping to put on the door, hoping to stifle any efforts one may make to enter our house.  We have heard and read  horror stories of poisonous snakes showing up in places like yards, toilets, and closets.  These warnings have prevented me from running on the numerous trails through the reserves in Wagga; instead I take my chance dodging cars in the streets.  We have experienced  temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, and yesterday, the temperature dropped 50 degrees in 12 hours.  It hasn't rained much; rather the big sky in this bush country is generally blue without a cloud to be seen.  We are very careful if we are driving in the bush in the evening, as we see evidence of  lots of  big red kangaroo road kill, one of which fell victim to President Maxwell's car when he came from Melbourne for missionary interviews.  His car had to be towed back to Melbourne for repairs.

Missionary work is great, and we have the privilege of working with 4 sister missionaries who are motivated, committed, and full of fun and energy.   Max is also serving as district leader, so we do the best we can to keep in contact with and support 4 sisters who live in Griffith, 2 1/2 hours away.The Wagga Branch is small, with a handful of incredibly faithful members who are dedicated, willing, and eager to serve in any capacity.  The branch boundaries encompass a large area of the bush, and some members drive over 2 hours, one way, to attend meetings.

We are blessed to help the sisters in Wagga teach people from Iran, the Phillipines, Sri Lanka, Africa,  and Taiwan, as well as Australians.  It is amazing to witness how the Spirit helps those with limited English understand the concepts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The diligence and obedience of the sisters is paying off, as we have had 3 baptisms in the last 3 weeks.  We are also searching for many "lost sheep," with hopes of bringing them back into the fold.

For a PDay activity, we hiked to the top of "The Rock," a large outcrop shaped like a crouching lion that rises over the plains south-west of Wagga.  It is the highest point in a small range that stands distinct from the flat farmland that surrounds it in all directions.  

Sisters Fameitau, Cook, Ricks, and Tui. 

 Sister Cook at the top of The Rock.  We pretty much had a 360 degree view of the surrounding farmland. 

 Matt Ede, a member of the Wagga Branch, is a sheep shearer.  He invited us to one of the shearing sheds to watch the shearing process.  

 When sheep are sheared, their entire fleece comes off in one big piece.  Depending on the size and breed of sheep, Matt shears between 150 and 300 sheep in a day.   Foot positioning is very important, and the sheep don't  put up much of a fight because of how the shearers hold them while shearing.  Definitely this is a very skilled profession.  

 I think we were previewing a Mormon Message for use in Family Home Evening.

 It is quite a coincidence that of the 8 of us serving in our district in Tasmania, 4 of us ended up in the Wangaratta District.  Elders Whitehead and Sargeant are two of our favorite elders.  

Max looks a little overwhelmed to be in charge of so many women, but he should be used to it.  Sister Cook and Shurtz both were transferred back to the city.  We will really miss their leadership.

 Sister Tui is a great missionary, good cook, and has a fun sense of humor.  She keeps us well entertained.  The sisters from Tonga wear black tights and long sleeved blouses or sweaters, even when the weather is really hot, because they don't want their skin to get any darker.  I think their skin is beautiful!

 For a Family Home Evening  game before Halloween, we played the mummy wrap-up game.  

 The "blood" on the mummies came from  mulberries on our two mulberry trees.  

The Wagga Chapel is located on a hill, so its steeple is seen from the distance. 

Many people put kangaroo guards on the front of their vehicles.

Our trees were loaded with juicy, sweet mulberries.

Sister Gonzales is from the Phillipines, Sister Ricks is from St. George, Sister Fameitau is from Sydney, and Sister Tui is from Tonga.  Sister Tui loves to pose for photos. 

We don't know the name of these birds, but they like the seeds in our weedy  "lawn." 

The Wollundry Lagoon is a beautiful backdrop for the the Wagga Civic Theater, library, and  amphitheater.  The open space in this area is used for festivals, weddings, and a farmers market. 

A mother duck was taking her ducklings for a swim in the lagoon. 

Sister Tui "won" the gold coin in a FHE game.  I'm not sure if the dollar she earned digging through the flour  with her teeth was worth it.  

Elder Fillmore and his district.  Talk about hormones!

The tall and the short of it.  Sister Gonzales and Ricks comprise an amazing companionship.

 The roses in the Wagga Botanical Garden were spectacular before the hot windy  weather